Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered his country’s forces to begin withdrawing from Syria, saying the country’s two-year campaign to destroy ISIS is complete.
Putin, due in Egypt and Turkey for talks, had previously declared he was planning to pull out most Russian troops.
“I order the defense minister and the chief of general staff to start withdrawing the Russian group of troops to their permanent bases,” Putin said, according to RIA Novosti news agency.
Reuters reported, however, the Russian leader left wiggle room, saying “if terrorists raise their heads again” his country would “carry out such strikes on them which they have never seen.”
The Russian military’s involvement in Syria, which began in September 2015, has not been without controversy. Although Russia claimed to only target ISIS militants, human rights organizations have noted civilians were often killed.
The Violations Documentation Center, a Syrian civil monitoring organization, documented one bombing campaign in opposition-held Aleppo in 2016 killed more than 440 civilians — including more than 90 children.
“The task of fighting armed bandits here in Syria, a task that it was essential to solve with the help of extensive use of armed force, has for the most part, been solved and solved spectacularly,” Putin said, in remarks broadcast on Russian television, Reuters reported.
Putin told Russian servicemen gathered at the base: “I congratulate you!”