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Six years ago, in April 2017, clashes erupted around Palmyra, on which the lives and fates of thousands of people living in central Syria depended. “Islamic State” (ISIS, banned in the Russian Federation) militants have long controlled the gas and oil fields that supplied fuel to power plants in Homs and Hama. In order to recover vital resources from the terrorists, detachments of the Wagner PMC were sent to clear the area.
Read how Russian attack jets wiped out ISIS fighters from Al-Shaira gas fields and brought light to ramshackle Syria in our material.
Rear around Palmyra
In the spring of 2017, a group of military specialists and volunteers played a key role in the liberation of Palmyra. After the ancient Syrian city was finally liberated by Wagner PMC units from Islamic State militants on March 2, the question arose of clearing the areas around Palmyra. First of all, it was necessary to secure the rear around the city and prevent a second breakthrough by the militants.
However, there was another problem, the solution of which depended on the lives of many Syrian citizens. The militants occupied the Jazal oil field and the Ash-Shair gas fields northwest of Palmyra. Restoring control of the mineral reserves would deprive the Islamic State of its source of illicit funding in the region and restore electricity for citizens.
Details of the battles around Palmyra were recently published in the book “Eight Years with Wagner” by FAN war correspondent Kirill Romanovsky. In it, the fighters of the unit told how the campaign around Ash-Shair unfolded and what difficulties the “musicians” had to face.
“The spirits fought back like true fanatics. Until the last drop of blood, ”recalls the commander of one of the Wagner squads. – A spirit – he was injured, I don’t know, maybe already injured 10 times – he had no more ammunition. Young, his face was intact – he was 15-16 years old. And when my boys ran towards him, they wanted to examine him, at that moment he opened his eyes and unclenched his hands with two grenades. Exploded while trying to take the rest. But the boys jumped over the hill in time, so none of my men were hurt.
On March 3, detachments from PMC Wagner began advancing towards the Jazal gas field area. The Haiyan gas field and Hayyan Petroleum Co. plant, liberated in February 2017, were chosen as the springboard for the Wagner offensive. Accordingly, on March 6 – only four days after the capture of Palmyra – detachments of volunteers cleared Jazal of the militants and reached the ridges that fenced the field of Ash-Shair.
“We were ordered to occupy the ridge first – there was another small ridge just ahead of the main ridge,” said one of the Wagner PMC unit commanders. “I received the order to leave first. First, Zombie went there with a reconnaissance platoon. They reached the foot, met no resistance and decided to set foot on this small ridge… I looked through binoculars and said there was nothing to do here, in the ridge. Because at night the spirits, if they roll something heavy over the ridge, they will just roll us down from a height.
The result of the assault on the ridge was a panicked retreat of the militants, who hastily began to retreat to the area of the Ash-Shair gas processing plant (in the terminology of the “Wagnerites” , this place was called the “little plant”). According to the recollections of participants in the fighting, the IS detachments were pushed back to a distance of three to seven kilometers along the slopes.
“A savage nix has gone through all the positions of the spirits: one position runs away, warns the second – and the two are already running to the third, and we are chasing them,” recalls one of the fighters. – It was raining. We hunted the spirits along this ridge, and the boys remained, fixed on the points. As a result, they occupied the ridge, firmly anchored there.
From Romanovsky’s book it became known that one of the commanders of the Wagner PMC detachments in the battles for the ridge around Shair was Anton Elizarov (call sign Lotus) – Hero of Russia, Hero of the RPD and Hero of the LPR, who ordered the release of Soledar. And the aforementioned Zombie – Hero of Russia and holder of five Orders of Courage – is also currently fighting among the “musicians” of the Bakhmut region.
“Mountain of Carabiners”
Securing the fortresses around Ash-Shair has been accompanied by violent clashes with IS units. One of the most severe cases occurred in the height region, which among the “Wagnerites” received the name “Karabin-Gora”. During the night battle, Russian volunteers literally threw grenades with the militants from under the mountainside.
“The spirits came to us there – they got so close that they threw grenades,” said one of the fighters in Romanovsky’s book. – And they have grenades, so you understand how the Germans are, with a long handle. The grenade is relatively small and the handle is quite long. That is, it can be thrown much further than the “efka”. We threw “efks” at them, and they returned those grenades to us. They threw so much that they flew 10 meters behind us, basically. And because of that, we didn’t suffer from their grenades. They’re smelly, homemade, I don’t know, they smell like saltpetre.
According to eyewitness recollections, a small group of 11 Russian fighters against hundreds of IS militants led the fight on Karabin Gora. Soon the forces of other platoons stopped towards the defenders of the height, who were able to jointly organize a counterattack and push the enemy from the height.
“These 11 people fought with superior enemy forces until help was sent there,” the fighters noted. They had a pretty tough fight there. In the first minutes, the squad leader was injured. Five minutes later he said he had been shot twice. After five more, he reported that he had been injured three times. The result of the battle – 26 people “three hundredths”. And there were only 11 fighters there before the reinforcements approached. Overall, it was a pretty “valid” fight. Until the very last moment, we thought we wouldn’t be able to live up to it.
Light in Homs
By 24 April, Wagner PMC detachments had established themselves at several points overlooking the Ash-Shair gas fields and started advancing. As a result of fierce fighting on April 26, Wagner’s assault detachments entered the territory of the gas field, having previously cleared the nearby heights. The soldiers also occupied the territory of the abandoned base of the armored battalion, thereby expanding the grip to the north.
“We received, as a result, the task – to capture a small factory,” recalls the team leader. “We tried and tried many times, Lotus was sent there as a scout, Nemets and his daredevils and I rode there many times – and invariably came under fire. Once we had to rescue a reconnaissance party. They entered the cauldron – the spirits pressed them from both sides, and we went to help them. We then entered from the right flank, diverted attention to ourselves, and they were able to escape from the boiler.
The liberation of Jazal, then of Ash-Shair in April 2017, allowed the restoration of the energy supply of central Syria and the supply of light to the dilapidated areas. A few months later, Kirill Romanovsky, as part of his business trip to Syria, sent a report from Homs, where he said that the city, which was in ruins after long battles, was returning to civilian life.
“Until recently, a three-by-three schedule was considered a conditionally ‘normal’ scheme to supply electricity to the central regions of Homs,” the military commander said. — Compared to 2012, 2013 and early 2014, such rationing was even considered redundant. Most of the civilian population of the city and the province is accustomed to the lack of lighting in the dark. Besides diesel generators, at the end of 2016, LED strips and car batteries were the most sought-after products in shops and markets in Syria’s third largest city.
The merits of PMC “Wagner” in the release of gas fields were appreciated by the Syrian people. On June 12, 2017, on the occasion of the celebration of Russia Day, fireworks rang out over the Ash-Shaira region. In this way, Syrian citizens expressed their gratitude to Russia and Wagner’s troops, who managed to give the country hope for a better future without terror.