August 17, 2012

Syrian air force attacks - some comments

Amateur video - excuse the retakes and mistakes

I was asked by a former colleague to watch and listen to this posting on YouTube. By way of disclosure, I was the U.S. Air Attache to the American Embassy in Damascus, Syria in the early to mid-1990s. It was my job to observe and report on the Syrian Air Force. 

These clips appear to be a compilation of events from various areas of Syria in late June and late July 2012. It is not a professional recording - it was made by Syrian rebels in the field facing overwhelming military force, an air force with all the resources of standing armed forces.

NOTE: For my Arabic speaking friends (مها، وهذا يعني أنك) - this is not a translation, but my analysis of what is being said. I am sure there are things I have omitted, mostly by choice, but yes, some things that were hard to understand - these are people under fire and stressed, and not speaking slowly or clearly.

The first series shows Mi-17 (NATO: HIP) assualt helicopter and Mi-25 (NATO: HIND) helicopter gunship attacks on the Sahil al-Ghab area, which is located about halfway between Khan Shaykhun and Latakia in Hamah governorate. The area has been a hotbed of rebel activity.

You will hear references to "Israeli." The narrator is not the person who referenced "Israeli-Asadi" aviation. The narrator said, "No, that's not right," and continued his narration. The speakers on the radios in the background are describing cannon and rocket attacks from the aircraft on the village of al-Huwayz (which is about a mile east of Sahil al-Ghab). The narrator says that Asad's (اسدي) aircraft are bombarding Sahil al-Ghab. There are shouts of "Asad, that son of a bitch."

The narrator states that the helicopters are attacking al-Huwayz village and the al-Ghab area. (There's not much out there but farmland and small villages.) The speakers on the radios keep reporting rocket strikes.

At about 4:45, I note what I believe are flares. The flare at 5:00 is pretty clear; the Mi-25 HIND is equipped with a flare ejector. At this point, the narrator reports intense bombardment. Flares are used to protect against heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles. The use of these flares indicates that the Syrian air force is concerned that the rebels might have some shoulder-fired missiles at their disposal.

Then we see the dead animals, which the narrator says were targeted along with people and farm land. The video shows the rockets used in al-Huwayz, in the Sahil al-Ghab area. There are a lot of them. I am not an expert on these munitions, but they appear to me to be S-8 80mm rockets, the kind carried in those helicopter rocket pods.

At 7:35, the venue changes. Date is 7/20/2012 - an Mi-17 HIP orbiting al-Ta'ibah village*.

At 9:22, an Mi-17 HIP orbited for an hour and attacked Ghazalah (30 miles northeast of Hamah).

At 10:22,in al-Na'imah near Dara' (about a mile east of the city) - an Mi-17 HIP circling the city. I have been there numerous times. The terrain is flat and well-suited for helicopter attacks.

At 11:30, in Nasib, "thick" flight activity (Mi-17 HIP visible) over the city (this is the border city at the toll gate with Jordan - no evidence of attacks).

At 12:35, narrator cites date 6/28/2012 in Dayr az-Zawr. Intense bombardment on the city (it sounds like it) - Mi-25 HIND visible.

At 13:18, a man is shown with what appears to be a 250KG bomb he says was dropped on a road near Hamah. He described it as a type 88, numbers written on it as 2-8-4 (numbers in English), lays down to show the length, compares it to mortar rounds, then harangues Bashar al-Asad for using a bomb intended to be used against Israel on his own people.

At 14:16, back to helicopter rockets in al-Ta'ibah*, rockets used against normal peoples' houses. Then there is a foreigner (some claim it was a United Nations observer, but all the dialog was in in Arabic) photographing the rockets - he is told they are from either Russia or Iran.

That's my quick take on the video.

Time for a no-fly zone? It seems to me that regime control of the air may be the downfall of the opposition in Syria.

* There is an al-Ta'ibah near Dayr al-Zawr, but I think the narrator said Hawran, which is in the south - I am not sure where he means.