- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2016

Claiming that his military escalation has achieved its goals, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday he had begun the withdrawal of Russian forces from the country even as the Syrian civil war continues to rage.

The surprise announcement left a number of questions unanswered, including the pace of the withdrawal and whether Russia’s air campaign in support of its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, will also be curtailed. The Russian “anti-terror campaign,” launched at the end of September in the face of U.S. and Western opposition, has been credited with giving Mr. Assad’s forces a major boost against rebel forces in the five-year civil war.

“I consider the objectives that have been set for the defense ministry to be generally accomplished,” Mr. Putin said on Monday during a meeting with Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to a report by the Russian news site Russia Today. “That is why I order to start withdrawal of the main part of our military group from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic starting from tomorrow.”

Mr. Putin said he had coordinated the withdrawal announcement with Mr. Assad, and added that the longstanding Russian air base in Latakia and naval facility in Tartous will remain in operation after the withdrawal.

U.S. and European leaders have criticized the Russian campaign, accusing Russian planes of indiscriminate bombing and of targeting only Mr. Assad’s pro-Western allies and not the Islamic State and al Qaeda forces operating inside Syria.


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