March 7, 2012

Video analysis: Syrian Air Force delivers materiel to Hamah Air Base

This YouTube video indicates just how serious the regime of Bashar al-Asad views the uprising in the central part of Syria.

By way of background, I was a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer specializing in the Middle East for over 25 years. I speak Arabic, and served as the air attache to the American embassy in Damascus, Syria in the early and mid 1990s. I have spent a good deal of my career observing the Syrian armed forces, especially focused on the Syrian Arab Air Force and Air Defense Force. I consider myself fairly well informed on the Syrian military.

The video is titled in Arabic: "Hamah military airport and the arrival of the military vehicles to carry...."

The venue in the video is indeed Hamah Air Base, located about two miles southwest of the city center. The airfield is only slightly visible from the roads in the vicinity because of the rolling hills in the area. The videographer found one of the few spots from which it is possible to observe air base operations - I am familiar with that location.

The narrator states the date (numerous times) as March 2, 2012, and describes himself as part of the Free Syrian Army. The Free Syrian Army is an opposition group composed of defectors from the Syrian armed forces. He misidentifies the aircraft in the video as as "a civilian aircraft at a military airport in Hamah."

The Syrian Arab Air Force operates four IL-76 (NATO: CANDID) jet transport aircraft. Although they are painted in Syria Air (the national civil air carrier) livery and at times fly international charters to generate income, they belong to the air force's 29th Brigade based on the military side of Damascus International Airport.

According to the narrator, the aircraft delivered armored vehicles and ammunition for use by the "shabihah" (the government-sponsored militia responsible for much of the violence) so they can operate day and night against the citizens of Hamah and its environs.

Please note that Hamah is the nearest military air base with good road access to the areas where there have been violent protests - Homs, Al Rastan and Idlib, as well as Hamah itself.

It is highly unusual for the Syrians to use their IL-76 aircraft for these deliveries. The normal method for the Syrians to move this type of materiel is by trucks/heavy equipment transporters. It is hard to drive anywhere on Syria's roads without seeing numerous military convoys moving equipment and supplies around the country.

The fact they chose to fly materiel to Hamah indicates either a road security concern or a real sense of urgency to get the equipment there.