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Two Russian Pilots Killed In Syria After Mi-25 Helicopter Downed

Russia says that two of its servicemen were killed near the Syrian city of Palmyra when their helicopter was shot down, bringing the number of Russian military personnel killed in the Syria conflict to at least 12.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that gunmen from the extremist Islamic State group downed the Syrian-owned helicopter that Russian military pilots Ryafagat Khabibulin and Yevgeny Dolgin were taking for a test flight on July 8

The helicopter "under fire" from IS militants after the pilots "had used up all their ammunition and were on their way back," the ministry said in the July 9 statement.

The SITE monitoring group said that the extremist organization had claimed responsibility.

RIA-Novosti and Interfax cited unnamed ministry officials earlier in the day as saying that the copter went down July 8 after engaging IS fighters in the Homs province.

The Defense Ministry statement said that the helicopter crew had "received a request" from Syrian forces to conduct airstrikes against "a large detachment of ISIS gunmen" that had "mounted an offensive against Syrian troops to the east of Palmyra," Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported.

"After having run out of ammunition, the turning around helicopter was hit by militants' gunfire from the ground and crashed in the area controlled by the Syrian governmental army. The crew died," TASS quoted the ministry as saying.

At least 11 Russian personnel have been killed in Syria since Russia launched its air operation in September to bolster the embattled forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Russian military has maintained a strong presence at an airbase in the Latakia province, in northwest Syria since launching its operations.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax, and AFP
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