Russian President Vladimir Putin will Thursday award troops who took part in the military operation in Syria over the the last six months, despite claims by rights groups that Russian airstrikes led to thousands of civilian deaths in the war-torn country. Russia had started conducting airstrikes in Syria Sep. 30 last year on the request of Syrian President Bashar Assad and began withdrawing from the country this week.
Putin had said Monday Russian troops will start withdrawing from Syria, claiming the "tasks" have been "generally fulfilled." However, Russian aircrafts have been accused of targeting U.S.-backed rebel groups fighting Assad as well as killing many civilians. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, had said earlier this month 1,733 civilians had been killed in Syria since the Russian operations began. According to monitoring organisation Airwars, more than 2,000 "non-combatants" have been killed by Russian jets, the Guardian reports.
Russia was also accused of hitting a Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) hospital in Syria as well as schools in rebel-controlled parts of Syria, though Moscow dismissed the allegations.
Putin said the Russian intervention in Syria had "turned the tide in the fight against international terrorism." Russia's Tass news agency said 7,200 sorties were conducted from Russia's Hmeimim airbase near Latakia "destroying over 12,700 facilities of gunmen," while "2,000 gunmen in Syria who came from Russia, including 17 field commanders" were also killed.
The agency also said "the terrorists lost half of profits from illegally extracted oil on the Syrian territory" due to the Russian strikes. Putin will Thursday "personally thank" the Russian servicemen who were part of the Syria operation.
Putin "will hand out state awards to servicemen and specialists of the military-industrial complex who distinguished themselves when fulfilling tasks in the Syrian Arab Republic," the Kremlin said in a statement, according to Tass.
Syria's ambassador to the United Nations said Russia was not withdrawing troops but "redeploying," according to ABC News. Russia has said it will continue to operate its bases at Hmeimim and Tartus in Syria to monitor the ceasefire.