"BEIRUT, LEBANON (2:50 P.M.) – On the night of January 23rd, the Russian Air Force reportedly transported dozens of Syrian Arab Army (SAA) soldiers to the Deir Ezzor Governate after the road to the military airport was close by the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS).
According to the Russian news outlet "Izvestia", Ilyushin-76 transport carriers and Mi-17 choppers made their way across the vast Syrian Desert to the Deir Ezzor Governate in order to transport a large number reinforcements from the Syrian Arab Army's 104th Airborne Brigade of the Republican Guard and 1st Armored Division.
It was necessary for the Russian Air Force to complete this transport of reinforcements because most aircraft were unable to land in the province due to the Islamic State's proximity to their landing zones.
The Syrian military's high command reportedly thanked the Russians yesterday for allowing them to use their technology in the fierce fight against the Islamic State." (Al Masdar News)
The situation is still pretty damned hairy at Deir ez-Zor, but this successful air insertion of a sizable force means things are much improved from a week ago. The original Izvestia article gives more detail of the operation. Elements of the 104th Republican Guard Airborne Brigade were first transported to the Qamishli Military Airport in northeast Syria by Russian Il-76 transports and trans-loaded onto Russian Mi-17 (Mi-8?) helicopters before the surprise night insertion into the airport at Deir ez-Zor. The size of the force was estimated to be a reinforced battalion task force.
The 104th did a similar airmobile insertion not that long ago to reinforce the defenses of the T4 after the fall of Palmyra. Another element of the 104th has been defending Deir ez-Zor since 2013. This was General Issam Zahreddine’s unit since the beginning of the war in Syria. The unit is heavily Druze, as is Zahreddine, known as the Lion of the Republican Guard.
A night insertion into a contested LZ is obviously a difficult operation. I’m sure this is why it was done with Russian Aerospace Forces helicopters. Most of the Russian air support for the defenders of Deir ez-Zor seems to be based at Qamishli, some 180 miles away from Deir ez-Zor. The situation at Qamishli must be much improved since last year when Syrian warplanes were withdrawn due to Kurdish and American threats.
For some reason, Al Masdar News chose a photo of soldiers rappelling from a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter to accompany its article. I don't think anybody does that anymore. Now it's all fast roping from UH-60 Black Hawks. The Russian Mi-17 or Mi-8 helicopters are much larger than either of these U.S. helicopters.
This is a two year old article about Deir ez-Zor, the 104th and General Zahreddine. Despite its age, it contains a lot of good information.