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Putin, on visit, orders Russian forces to start pulling out of Syria

"I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia," said the Russian President

AFP | PTI  |  Moscow 

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the annual Volunteer of Russia 2017 award ceremony at the Megasport Sport Palace in Moscow, Russia. Photo: AP/PTI
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo: AP/PTI)

President on Monday ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from during a surprise visit to the war-torn country.

first intervened in the conflict in 2015, staging air strikes in support of its ally Damascus targeting both the Islamic State group and other jihadists as well as rebels fighting troops.

"I order the defence minister and the chief of general staff to start withdrawing the Russian group of troops to their permanent bases," Putin said in a televised speech as he visited Russia's Hmeimim airbase in

"I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in is returning home to "

Putin, who was welcomed by Syrian President Bashar al- Assad, said the troops had helped the Syrian army crush the "most battle-ready group of terrorists," apparently referring to the Islamic State group.

"Our homeland thanks you, my friends," Putin said. "Have a safe trip. I thank you for your service."

Putin and Assad were pictured smiling and shaking hands.

Putin made the stopover at the base in Latakia province, a regime stronghold, on his way to Egypt where he arrived later on Monday.

Putin said last month that efforts to end the war were entering a "new stage" as the focus shifted from military intervention to political reform.

More than 340,000 people have been killed since the conflict broke out in March 2011 with protests against Assad's rule that sparked a brutal crackdown.

First Published: Mon, December 11 2017. 17:16 IST