A Syrian special forces operation is reportedly underway in the area where a Russian Su-25 jet was downed by a MANPAD rocket on Saturday. The goal is to find evidence allowing the weapon to be traced to its origin.
The Russian warplane was downed by a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft rocket, according to the Russian defense ministry. Moscow is very interested in establishing how exactly the weapon system got into the hands of the militant group responsible for attack, Russian MP Vikotor Volodarsky told RIA Novosti.
"The group that had the MANPAD has been destroyed by the Russian Air Force. Now the Syrian commandos are working on the ground. If they find elements of that launcher, we could trace its serial number and establish its origin to the factory in a few days, find out how it got there,” the Russian MP said. He added Russian planes are providing air support to the Syrian troops.
Earlier the US asserted that it did not provide the MANPAD to the group which shot down the Russian plane. “The United States have not provided any of its allied forces in Syria with anti-aircraft weapons,” Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway told TASS.
The incident happened in a part of Idlib governorate controlled by the jihadist group previously known as Al-Nusra Front, according to the Russian military.
Russian lawmakers have called for a thorough investigation on the origins of the man-portable missile launcher that was likely used by militants in Syria to shoot down a Russian fighter jet before killing the pilot in a firefight. There are already hints the weapon was supplied by the US, and warnings from Russia that "the country responsible will be punished."
"Certainly, we will investigate, including a great many things: from the type of the MANPADS [man-portable air defense system] to the circumstances of the Su-25 downing," Frants Klintsevich, First Deputy chair of Russia's Federal Council Defense Committee, told Interfax.
He hopes that evidence will be available due to the "abundance of UAVs and space surveillance in the area."
As far as military losses go, "the loss of one aircraft is nothing, but politically it has great significance and far-reaching consequences,"Klintsevich said.
Other lawmakers are concerned about how the militants could have acquired the anti-aircraft weapon. "We have information that the MANPADS used to bring down our jet was brought into Syria from a neighboring country several days ago," MP Dmitry Sablin, coordinator of the Russia-Syria parliamentary friendship group, told Interfax. "Countries from whose territory weapons arrive, that are then used against Russian servicemen, must understand that whis will not go unpunished," he added.
Deputy Head of the State Duma Defense Committee, Yury Shvytkin, told RIA he is inclined to believe that the "MANPADS' origins are linked with Western countries."
A Pentagon spokesperson, interviewed by TASS, has already denied the US sent anti-aircraft weapons to Syria. However, the 2017 defense spending bill, signed under Barack Obama, opened the door for the supply of such weapons to Syrian rebels – a fact that Moscow sounded the alarm over when the bill was inked.
However, it envisages careful vetting of the recipients and extensive paperwork, and the Pentagon has previously said that no such deliveries have actually been made.
In mid-January, a report by the Syrian online outlet Al-Masdar claimed Kurdish forces operating in Syria had received a shipment of MANPADS from the US in an "independent secret deal." The report cited unnamed "opposition sources."
The Syrian Special Forces are conducting a military operation in the area, where the day before a Russian Su-25 was shot down by the Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group, killing its pilot.