Russians Set up New Syria Airbase in City Where Retreating Americans Were Pelted With Stones by Locals

Russia has established a new airbase in the northern Syrian city of Qamishli, as Moscow expands its military footprint into the vacuum left by U.S. forces ordered out of the Turkish border region last month.

The head of the new base, Timur Khodzhayev, told the state-backed Tass news agency that it will host helicopters allowing Russian troops to expand patrols in the border region, for which Moscow has now taken joint responsibility with Turkey.

Qamishli was under near-total control of U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) until last month, with only the city's airport remaining in the hands of troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But after U.S. troops left the area and Turkey invaded, the Kurdish-led SDF was forced to turn to Assad and his Russian backers for help. In exchange, they handed over control of multiple key cities and other areas won back from the Islamic State militant group in the bloody Western-backed campaign against the extremists.

U.S. soldiers passed through Qamishli last month on their way out of Syria into Iraq.

Locals pelted American convoys with vegetables and rocks, accusing the troops of abandoning them to the Turkish military and their Syrian proxy militias.

The retreat was a priceless strategic win for Assad and Russia. With barely a shot fired, the regime was able to establish control over much of the east of the country and effectively smother the nascent Kurdish statelet.

Russia, meanwhile, has emerged as the primary power-broker in the war-torn nation.

Khodzhayev said that the new base in Qamishli—officially known as an aviation commandant's office—will ensure "uninterrupted flights, safety of helicopters and protection and defense of the territory." The aircraft will cover the Hasaka province, which stretches all the way to the Turkish-Iraqi border.

The base will reportedly be equipped with air defense systems, a flight control room, pre-flight training facilities and medical services, Khodzhayev explained. "Military police, special equipment, vehicles and fuel to ensure uninterrupted flights have also been allocated," he noted.

The first group of helicopters has already arrived at the base. A video published by the Russian Defense Ministry's Zvezda news channel showed an Mi-8 gunship and a transport helicopter arriving, flanked by two Mi-35 attack helicopters. An anti-aircraft Pantsir missile system was deployed on the ground.

American soldiers were filmed driving near Qamishli on Wednesday, despite their withdrawal from the region last month. The chaotic nature of the Turkish operation has left the situation on the ground uncertain, with U.S., Russian, SDF and Syrian regime troops all crossing paths with each other.

President Donald Trump has ordered a force to remain in eastern Syria to guard the oil fields there. But in the north the U.S. has stepped back and allowed Syrian, Russian and Turkish forces to take the lead, even if some American troops remain in the area.

US, Russia, Air base, Syria, Qamishli
Children watch as U.S. military vehicles drive on a road east of the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli on November 13, 2019. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images/Getty