Russian engineering troops, who perform a wide range of tasks in Syria, told reporters about their work on their professional holiday. In addition to demining liberated territories, military engineers also have responsibilities for the operation of Russia's Khmeimim airbase.
Day of Engineering Corps in Russia is celebrated on January 21. In 2021, military engineers celebrate the 320th anniversary of the creation of this kind of troops in the Russian army. It is customary to count back to 1701 when under a decree of Peter I in Moscow the School of the Gunnery order was opened. In addition to artillerymen, it also began to train specialists in fortification and mine blasting for the army.
First comes the sapper
Members of the engineer troops are best known as mine clearance specialists. Their work in major cities liberated from the militants, such as Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor, as well as in one of the world's major centers of ancient architecture - the ruins of Palmyra - has been widely covered in Russia. The deminers went to these and other areas immediately after the fighters left them, finding more than 150,000 explosive objects in five years.
"As they say, until a sapper goes through, no one goes through. Engineering troops units are pioneers - they conduct engineering reconnaissance for explosive objects," says Deputy Chief of Engineering Troops of the Group of Forces of the Russian Armed Forces in Syria Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Reutsky.
According to him, sappers have a particularly difficult task in the republic. During the years of war, the fighters have studied the experience of many local conflicts of the past years and developed their own. When manufacturing home-made ammunition and explosive devices, which the sappers disarm, they use technologies, which Russian servicemen have not encountered before to such an extent.
"We see here the experience of Afghanistan and the first and second Chechen campaigns. The distinguishing feature here is that explosive devices are usually made using production machines that have been seized from factories in Syria. Therefore, they [the fighters] are able to manufacture not only explosive devices but also ammunition for artillery, even rocket-propelled, multiple-launch rocket systems. At the same time, they try to minimize the use of metal elements in the manufacture of explosive devices in order to make them more difficult to detect," Reutsky explained.
Training and working with counterparts
Samples of explosive devices, ammunition and even artillery pieces made by militants can be seen at the engineering forces' base in Khmeimim. They do not just form an exhibition - the finds are carefully studied in order to work out the most effective ways of disarming such items.
In addition to their own work, Russian specialists also trained Syrian sappers. Despite the fact that the required number of them has already been trained and the activity of the training center in Syria has been terminated, local colleagues, according to Reutsky, regularly ask the Russians for advice.
"Now they along with us perform the whole range of tasks and are engaged in clearing the terrain. There is still a lot of work to do: there are a number of sites in the country that have not been cleaned at all after liberation. For example, the village of Salma is a city in ruins and needs to be cleaned. There are other similar territories," stressed Reutsky.
Protection from provocations
The deminers also have work to do at the Khmeimim airbase itself. A demining team in special explosive ordnance suits goes around the perimeter of the base with the support of an armored personnel carrier and conducts engineering reconnaissance. The soldiers are looking for explosive devices that could be planted nearby.
"Particular attention is being paid to road sites where explosive devices are most likely to be planted. Under the asphalt will be immediately noticeable, so laying is most likely under cable poles, culverts, in some ditch close to the road," explains Reutsky.
The 10 km route the engineer reconnaissance team travels for more than three hours. Conducting engineering reconnaissance twice a day allows all the other soldiers at Khmeimim to move fearlessly along the perimeter fences. During the recent New Year holidays, the deminers said, the frequency of the procedure was increased to four times a day.
Since 2015, when Russian servicemen were stationed at Khmeimim, Reutsky notes, there have been no cases of explosive devices detected at the base itself. However, sappers have found potentially explosive items nearby outside the perimeter fences.
Life support at the base
Not only do the engineering troops work with explosive ordnance, they also build and maintain protective structures, and provide Khmeimim with electricity and, most importantly, clean water. The airbase consumes about 25 cubic meters of water daily in winter and twice as much in summer when there is a lot of heat in Syria.
"A mobile complex water purification station SKO-10 on the basis of a Kamaz truck works here. It has 64 filters, and we can purify water saturated with iron and other elements, even radioactive water," Lieutenant Colonel Vitaly Zykov, head of the engineering service of the mixed air regiment, told reporters.
However, Khmeimim does not have to deal with radioactive contamination. The water coming from the nearby city is mostly saturated with iron and limestone particles. According to Zykov, it is difficult to call this water drinking water, but even the specialists of the sanitary and epidemiological service, who check the results of the engineers' work several times a day, have no claims to it after cleaning.
GSV "Russia - Islamic World"
Photo: Creative Commons
Based on materials from TASS