The operation to save Captain Murakhtin, the navigator of the Russian fighter plane that was shot down by Turkey, was carried out by a special unit comprising Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and Syrian commandos that were trained by the Iranian expeditionary Qods Force under the command of General Ghasem Soleimani, the Persian-language service of Russian news agency Sputnik reported.
Turkish fighter planes shot down the Russian Su-24 plane, which Turkey claimed to have been intruding Turkish airspace, on Tuesday, November 24. Both the Russian plane’s pilot, Lt. Col. Oleg A. Peshkov, and navigator parachuted out but only the later survived as the pilot was killed by ground fire from insurgents. According to Sputnik, the navigator was captured by Syrian Turkman Brigades and then he was rescued from captivity by a joint commando operation.
“General Soleimani insisted that he wanted to oversee the details of the operation,” one Syrian military officer was quoted as saying in Sputnik. “He stayed at the command center until he was certain that the operation had been successful.”
In recent days, reports have also gone around that Soleimani was injured, and even killed, during the operation. However, Sputnik denies the rumors and has reported that the general remains at the frontline. The head of public relations for the Revolutionary Guards, Ramezan Sharif, has backed up the Sputnik reports. “The commander of the Qods Force [Soleimani] is in perfect health,” he said on Tuesday, November 24.
However on Wednesday, November 25, the day after Sharif made his remark, it was reported by French news agency AFP that General Soleimani had suffered minor injuries during a military operation in the province of Aleppo. The Revolutionary Guards has yet to respond to the latest reports.
But the rumors surrounding General Soleimani do not end there. It is now also being claimed that the commander has played an important role in convincing Russian President Vladimir Putin to engage in military operations in Syria.
Earlier this week, member of parliament Alireza Zakani gave an overview of the meetings that had taken place between Putin and the general. According to him, Putin had misgivings about military engagement in Syria but changed his mind after Soleimani told him that, “your main threat is the 16,000 Chechens who are in Syria and Iraq and the 30 million Muslims [in Russia] who will become a serious threat in the Caucasus region once they return.”
And, last week, Masoud Asadollahi, a military expert linked to the Revolutionary Guards, made the same argument during an interview: “Until a few months ago, the Russians had no intention of establishing a serious military presence in Syria but Commander Soleimani convinced them to enter the arena.” However, according to Mr Asadollahi, the number of Russian nationals who have joined ISIS is much lower, averaging at 7,000, rather than 16,000.