Russia uses Iranian airbase for Syria air strikes Russian jets for first time use Iranian airbase to carry out air strikes in war-torn Syria

MOSCOW (AA) – Russian warplanes on Tuesday used an Iranian airbase for the first time as part of its airstrike campaign in Syria, local media reported.

Citing Russian defense ministry, media outlets said Tuesday that TU-22M3 and SU-34 jets took flight from Hamedan Airbase in western Iran and hit targets in Syria.

Before Hamedan Airbase, Russian forces had been using Khmeimim Airbase in Syria or Russian territories.

According to media reports, this newly signed military agreement with Iran will make Moscow reduce flight time by 60 percent, which will both save Kremlin money and increase airstrike effectivity.

Since last September, Russia has bolstered its military assets in Syria’s coastal areas, generally relying on a Caspian Sea-Iran-Iraq air corridor.

On Sept. 30, when international criticism of the Russian military buildup in Syria was mounting, Moscow began extensive air operations in the country, declaring that it was fighting terrorism.

Turkey and Western powers, for their part, accused Russia of striking at moderate Syrian opposition groups rather than terrorist targets.

Russia currently maintains Su-24s, Su-25s, and Su-30s at the airbase, which is controlled by Bashar al-Assad regime of Syria, along with Mi-24 attack helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests – which erupted as part of the “Arab Spring” uprisings – with unexpected ferocity.

Since then, more than a quarter of a million people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced across the war-battered country, according to the UN.

The Syrian Center for Policy Research, however, put the death toll from the six-year conflict at more than 470,000 people.

* Burcu Arik contributed to this story from Istanbul.

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