In recent days, Russian Special Forces have stepped up operations on the Syria-Turkey border in a hunt for the culprit who killed a Russian Su-24 pilot on 24 November 2015. The Russian aircraft reportedly breached Turkish airspace while conducting strikes against Syrian rebel positions on the border, and was shot down by a Turkish F-16. Both pilots safely ejected from the aircraft, but one pilot was killed by militants when he landed near their position. The other pilot was rescued by Russian forces and evacuated from the region. The person targeted by Russian forces is Alparslan Celik, a Turkish national, who stated he killed the pilot because the aircraft had been dropping bombs on civilian Turkmen. Celik is reported to be located in the town of Rabia, which has recently been recaptured by Syrian government forces.
Outside of the hunt for the Turkish militant, Russia has also increased its heavy bomber presence over Syria. When air operations began against ISIS and the Syrian militants, Russia deployed a flight of heavy bombers from Russian territory to target. The Russians have launched nearly 6,000 combat sorties since 30 September 2015. While most modern air forces largely rely on smart bombs to hit targets, the Russians have also reverted to dropping traditional “dumb” bombs from their heavy bombers. On 26 January 2016, footage was released of a Tu-22M3 (a supersonic, swept-wing long range strategic bomber) unleashing a torrent of bombs on ISIS positions near Deir-ez-Zor. The footage is reminiscent of B-52s carpet bombing North Vietnamese forces in the Vietnam War.
The strategic gains against ISIS continue throughout Syria and Iraq. Iraqi forces have recently recaptured Ramadi and are consolidating their forces for a push into Mosul (Iraq’s second largest city). American and Iraqi officials are currently in discussions regarding the use of American ground troops to support the Iraqi assault on Mosul. American special operation forces are currently deployed to Iraq, assisting Kurdish and Iraqi troops in training and combating ISIS. Col. Steve Warren, a US Army spokesman, has stated that the assault on Mosul will require at least eight brigades (3-5,000 soldiers) of Iraqi and Kurdish troops. With the necessity of providing ground advisors, the US may deploy a large contingent of soldiers to support these brigades in the assault. There is no definitive date for the assault on Mosul, although Kurdish forces have begun striking ISIS positions outside of the city, killing over 400 militants since 23 January.