July 25, 2012

Syrian air attacks on Aleppo

This video was taken by members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Aleppo (Arabic: Halab), Syria's largest city located in the north of the country.

BBC has reported it as MiG fighters, the FSA calls it a "warplane of MiG design" (ta'irah harbiyah bisamam al-migh). My gisted interpretation of the Arabic in the clip:

"He's attacking...look, look...a warplane of MiG design, 24/7/2012...God is great...24/7/2012, a warplane is bombing neighborhoods of the city of Aleppo...."

The aircraft is actually an L-39ZA Czech-built trainer with a light attack capability. The ZA variant, of which Syria has several squadrons, can carry a 23mm twin-barrelled cannon in a conformal under-fuselage pod, as well as four pylons for air-to-ground bombs and air-to-air missiles. It is an effective counterinsurgency platform in a low-threat environment, hence its appearance in the skies over Aleppo.

Syrian Air Force L-39 tail number 2090 (courtesy Luftwaffe A.S)

Given Syria's admission that it possesses chemical and possibly biological weapons - which was no secret - and reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Asad has actually considered their use, the appearance of counterinsurgency aircraft is of concern. The aircraft can carry two 500 kilogram (1,100 pounds) bombs, one of the chemical weapon delivery methods in the Syrian inventory.

The Syrian L-39ZA squadrons are based in the Aleppo area, with the primary mission of advanced pilot training. The two bases, Rasn al-'Abud and Jirah, are only minutes by air from Aleppo. The chemical weapons are produced in the Aleppo area, but the known Syrian stockpiles are further south, west of Homs and near the airbase at Dumayr. Moving bombs over Syria's fairly good roads from either of these locations would be easy and take only a few hours.

Obviously, Bashar has supporters not only in the Syrian army, but also in the Syrian air force. They also show no reticence in attacking their own people - the aircraft does appear to be firing at the beginning of the clip (at 0:03/0:04 seconds).

If someone (read: US and NATO) is looking for a reason for a no-fly zone, here it is.