Aug 18, 8:18 AM EDT

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MOSCOW (AP) -- The Russian military says its aircraft are supporting a Damascus government offensive against the Islamic State group in a town in central Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry says the Syrian army is now completing efforts to encircle IS militants near the town of Akerbat in Hama province.

Friday's military statement says Syrian troops seized key heights in the area, cutting off avenues of supply for the militants. It says the militants have started fleeing the area in small groups, making their way toward Deir el-Zour, the largest city still under IS control.

The ministry says Russian drones are patrolling the area round-the-clock, directing air strikes.

Russia has waged an air campaign in Syria since September 2015, helping Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces gain ground and achieve key victories.

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