Moscow: President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria during a surprise visit to the war-torn country.
Russia first intervened in the conflict in 2015, staging air strikes in support of its ally Damascus targeting both the Daesh extremist group and other militants as well as rebels fighting government troops.
"I order the defence minister and the chief of general staff to start withdrawing the Russian troops to their permanent bases," Putin said in a televised speech as he visited Russia's Hmeimim airbase in Syria.
"I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia."
Putin, who was welcomed by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, said the troops had helped the Syrian army crush the "most battle-ready group of international terrorists," apparently referring to the Daesh group.
"Our homeland thanks you, my friends," Putin said. "Have a safe trip. I thank you for your service."
Putin and Al Assad were pictured smiling and shaking hands.