Syria moved aircraft out of US-bombed airstrip to Russian base

PHOTO: A picture taken on April 7, 2017 shows the damaged Shayrat airfield at the Syrian government forces military base targeted earlier overnight by US Tomahawk cruise missiles.PlayAFP/Getty Images
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Syria has moved its aircraft from a base struck by the United States two weeks ago to a separate airbase in the port city of Latakia used by Russia's military, a U.S. official tells ABC News. Most of Syria’s operational fixed wing military aircraft have been moved to the base, according to the official.

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The tactical move to the base Russia uses for its fixed wing aircraft missions inside Syria is likely for protection from additional American strikes, since Russian aircraft will be nearby.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis said last week that the Tomahawk cruise missile strike on April 7 had destroyed about 20 percent of the Syria's operational aircraft. That number implied that Syria has less than 100 operational military aircraft in its inventory.

After the U.S. strike, Russia said it would suspend its participation in a hotline with the United States military to “deconflict” or minimize the risk of mid-air collisions in Syrian airspace, but U.S. officials said this week that the two militaries continued to communicate.

“We are deconflicting with the Russians ... and we will continue to deconflict," Secretary of Defense Mattis said on Tuesday, kicking off his trip to the Middle East and Africa.

The American strike against the Syrian airstrip two weeks ago came in the wake of a devastating chemical weapons attack from Syrian president Bashar Assad that killed at least 87 civilians, including 31 children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The United States launched 59 cruise missiles in a strike intended to damage the infrastructure of the airstrip from which the U.S. believes the chemical weapons attack was launched. It was the first direct U.S. attack on the Syrian government's facilities.