On December 31, at the Khmeimim airbase (the Syrian province of Latakia), one of the most serious incidents took place in the two-plus years of Russia's air operations in Syria. According to Kommersant's information, on that day the air base was subjected to mortar shelling by radical Islamists, which resulted in the destruction of at least four front-line Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S multipurpose fighter aircraft and one An-72 military transport aircraft. More than ten servicemen could get injuries.
The emergency incident at the Syrian airbase Khmeimim "Kommersant" became known from two military-diplomatic sources. Without going into details, they reported that the militants of one of the terrorist groups fired at a Russian military facility in Syria, which resulted in the actual destruction of four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters, one An-72 transport vehicle, and an ammunition depot detonated after hitting a mortar shell. In total, according to unofficial data, more than ten servicemen could suffer. The incident was not commented at the Russian Defense Ministry: the military only officially confirmed the death of two pilots who piloted the Russian Mi-24 helicopter that day. According to the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, there was no fire impact on the helicopter - the equipment itself failed.
The incident in Khmeimim can be considered one of the most serious for the entire time of the operation in Syria.
Firstly, all the losses, both combat and none, were of a single nature during the campaign, no mass destruction of Russian equipment was recorded. Secondly, until December 31, Russian air defense systems did not allow a single fact of violating the security zones of the bases in Tartus and Khmeimim. However, on that day the air defense systems did not help. It is noteworthy that on December 7 the head of the main operational department of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces, Sergei Rudskoy, did not exclude the appearance of separate sabotage groups of militants of the "Islamic state" (banned in Russia) on the liberated territory in Syria. "In this case, they will be destroyed by the forces of government troops that have specially prepared mobile reserves," he said. But these reserves were not enough.
It should be noted that President Vladimir Putin ordered the withdrawal of the bulk of Russian forces and assets from Syria on December 11. Then he visited Khemeymim, where he thanked the military for "the brilliant accomplishment of its tasks," noting that Syria has been preserved as a sovereign and independent state, and conditions for a political settlement under the aegis of the UN have been created in the country. 11 days later, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to the President of the Russian Federation that 36 aircraft and four helicopters, six Tu-22 bombers returned from Syria to their places of permanent resettlement from Syria, and 157 vehicles were delivered to the Russian Federation by sea. It can be assumed that after the incident a part of the aircraft will be returned to Khmeimim for the restoration of the flight crew of the group.
At the same time, high-ranking Russian military officials have repeatedly accused the coalition led by the United States of establishing a base in Et-Tanf (Homs province). The head of the RF Armed Forces General Staff Valery Gerasimov in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda, referring to the data of space and other types of reconnaissance, stated that on this basis there are detachments of militants: "They are actually preparing there." According to him, there are militants in the Shaddady camp in the north-east of the country, where the US base is also located. He believes that they are the remnants of the "Islamic state", but after the work done with them, they take other names (for example, the "New Syrian Army"): "Their task is to destabilize the situation."
If the involvement of these formations in the attack on Khmeimim will be confirmed, then Russian-American relations in 2018 will begin with a serious clarification of the relationship.