Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise visit to Syria on Monday, declared victory and announced the pullout of his troops.
Accompanied by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Putin spoke to Russian troops at the Khmeimim air base, which has been the headquarters of Russia's military mission in Syria since its military fighter planes first arrived there in 2015.
In his remarks, Putin ordered the start of "withdrawal of troop contingents" from Syria, adding that a Russian presence would remain at both the air base and at the naval base in Tartus.
Putin congratulated the Russian troops involved in Syrian combat, saying, "The homeland is proud of you ... and if the terrorists raise their heads again, we will strike them with such blows which they have not yet seen."
Syria's six-year civil war has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced more than 6 million civilians. Russia and Iran have sided with Assad in the conflict, which has run concurrently with efforts to defeat the Islamic State terror group in the north African nation.
Putin has ordered similar drawdowns of Russian troops from Syria in the past.