Putin orders partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria

President Assad welcomes President Putin to the Hmeimim air base

President Assad welcomes President Putin to the Hmeimim air base Mikhail Klimentyev TASS Getty Images

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

The tour of the base marked Putin's first visit to Syria since he ordered Russian forces to intervene in support of Assad against rebel groups in 2015.

But he left open the door to a further Russian presence in Syria, saying that both Russia's airbase at Khmeimim and naval base at Tartus would keep operating. It is also the first visit by a foreign head of state to war-ravaged Syria since its bloodletting started almost seven years ago.

It also follows the Russian announcement last week that the Syrian army under the Russian air cover routed the Islamic State in eastern Syria and fully restored control over the border with Iraq.

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"You have shown the best qualities of a Russian soldier", Putin said.

"I order the defense minister, the chief of the general staff to begin the pullout of the Russian troops to their permanent deployment areas", Putin said.

"Our homeland thanks you, my friends", Putin said. Putin made the stopover at the base in Latakia province, a regime stronghold, on his way to Egypt where he arrived later today.

The Russian leader has emphasized that should the terrorists try to "rear their heads" in Syria again, Russia will strike them as "they have never seen before". Meanwhile, Syrian state TV said that Ashar Assad met up with Putin at the air base in Syria earlier in the morning.

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