Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Syria for an unannounced visit on Monday. The civil war that erupted in 2011 has killed 400,000 people and caused millions of others to flee their homes. Putin added that he had made the decision that a significant number of the Russian military contingent in Syria should return to Russia.
The visit marks Putin's first trip since the Syrian conflict began six years ago. He added that within two years, the Russian and Syrian armies "have defeated the toughest group of global terrorists". It is also the first visit by a foreign head of state to war-ravaged Syria since its bloodletting started almost seven years ago.
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"You have shown the best qualities of a Russian soldier", Putin said. However, he stressed that Russia will not withdraw all of its forces, saying that Russian military personnel will remain at the Khmeimim Air Base and the naval facility in Tartus.
"Our homeland thanks you, my friends", he said.
"We will deliver such strikes on them that they have not seen yet", he said his remarks given to troops at the airbase on Monday.
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Putin and Assad were pictured smiling and shaking hands. "The territory of Syria has been completely liberated from fighters of this terrorist organization", he told reporters.
Russian Federation launched its air campaign in Syria at the end of September 2015 when Assad's government was teetering on the brink of collapse and quickly changed the course of the conflict in its favor.
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