The Russian military launched long-range bombers from an air base in southern Russia for the first time in a year to strike targets in Syria, two U.S. officials told Fox News on Thursday.
Tu-95 “Bear” and Tu-160 “Blackjack” bombers took off from the base in Engels Wednesday and launched cruise missiles into Syria. It was not immediately clear exactly where the missiles were launched or where they hit, the officials said.
The last time bombers took off from Engels to conduct strike missions in Syria was in November 2015, according to one official.
Syrian Air Force jets have been pounding Aleppo all week, according to local reports, ending a three-week-old cease fire.
Separately, a flight of Russian bombers launched from Murmansk in northern Russia and flew as far south as Portugal before turning around in what U.S. officials described as a “show of force.” Officials could not confirm reports NATO jets intercepted those bombers.
American defense officials have described these missions as a way for Russia to “show off” its latest military hardware. While the Tu-95 “Bear” is a relic of the Cold War, the Russians have test fired new types of cruise missiles into Syria this week.
Earlier this week, Russian Su-33s saw combat for the first time in Syria, striking from an air base along Syria’s coastline. The jets initially flew from Russia’s only aircraft carrier, which is now in the eastern Mediterranean.
Russia’s jets cannot take off with a full combat load of bombs and fuel, according to U.S. officials. Six Su-33s flew off the Admiral Kuznetzov aircraft carrier over the weekend and conducted strikes earlier this week.
Other advanced MiG-29Ks have launched from the carrier, but they were forced to arm at the Russian air base ashore before carrying out their missions. These jets have been mostly flying escort for the strike aircraft, according to officials.
So far, most of the Russian strikes have been in Hama, Homs, and Idlib Provinces where Syrian rebels, some supported by the United States, were fighting regime forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Al Qaeda fighters on the ground in Idlib were fighting the regime as well. The United States has carried out multiple drone strikes in the past month to eliminate top Al Qaeda leaders there.