October 27, 2012

The Syrian "barrel bomb" - a terror weapon

Barrel bombs aboard an Mi-8 helicopter
Syrian air force crewman ignites barrel bomb fuse with a cigarette

The Syrian air force has developed a crude, but effective air-delivered munition referred to by the Syrian people who it is dropped on as al-barmil (the barrel), or al-barmil TNT. It is mostly delivered by helicopter, usually the Mi-8 (HIP C) and Mi-17 (HIP H). The sound of helicopter rotor blades causes panic and terror.

There are several versions of the barrel bomb, probably depending on which air base prepares them. They all include the same basic components. Start with a cylindrical object, be it a large-diameter pipe, a used artillery shell, or the basic oil drum. Fill the object with TNT or other explosive, some oil and shrapnel. The shrapnel used includes pieces of rebar, nuts and bolts, nails and ball bearings. The explosion causes great damage to soft structures - houses, apartment buildings, commercial areas - in addition to the extreme human casualties.

The bombs, in reality improvised explosive devices, are fitted with a fuse that appears to be nothing more than detonator cord, and is ignited with a match, lighter or cigarette (as seen in video below). After the fuse is lit, the device is pushed out the back of the helicopter. From the videos I have seen, there does not appear to be much aiming - the crewmen push the barrel out over a city or village. The helicopters remain fairly high - I estimate the altitude of the video below at about 10,000 feet - to remain above the effective altitude of the anti-aircraft artillery and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles in the hands of the Free Syrian Army.

Here is a video clip of an Mi-8 helicopter dropping barrels in what I believe to be northeastern Syria the area of Dayr al-Zawr.

This is what a barrel bomb looks like from the ground. In this clip, two barrel bombs are dropped on Busra al-Sham in southern Syria. You can here the terror in the narrator's voice. Busra al-Sham is home to one of the world's best-preserved Roman cities.

This is what a barrel looks like after it has hit the ground, but not detonated. Note the shrapnel in the lower frame.

Carrying barrel bombs inside a helicopter is risky business, especially if the helicopter is flying within the effective range of antiaircraft weapons. I believe this helicopter may have been carrying these TNT-laden barrel bombs when it was hit by ground fire.

The Syrians have developed what appears to be an effective weapon that incites panic and fear on its intended targets. We must not forget that these random bombings are directed at their own people.

October 23, 2012

Russian weapons to Syria - Minister Lavrov, any comment?

Despite Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov's recent protestations to the contrary, there is ample evidence of Russian resupply of weapons and armaments to the Syrian regime. Here is more.

This video, allegedly acquired from an airman at the Hamah air base, adds credibility to the accusations that have been on the table since at least March of this year. See my earlier article, Video analysis: Syrian Air Force delivers materiel to Hamah Air Base (March 2012).

Here is my interpretation of the Arabic narration of the video - it pretty much speaks for itself. This happened in July of this year, and seems to be an ongoing Russian resupply operation to the Syrian government. I have interpreted what the speaker says without comment, some of it is incorrect - my analysis follows.

"This is a military air base in Syria. An aircraft of the Syrian civilian airline has landed at Hamah air base, coming from Russia carrying Russian weapons. This air base is located in Hamah governorate and is located in a strategic military position and can extend its reach to all the governorates of Hamah, Idlib and Homs, the areas in which there is revolutionary activity.

"This video was provided by someone who works at the base to indicate the support of the Russians to the Syrian regime that is suppressing its own people, via the air bridge between Moscow and Damascus. It is supplying ammunition, rockets and bombs to the air bases.

"Four flights have supplied 8,000 S-5KP and S-5KO rockets, between 150 and 200 bombs ranging from 250 to 500 kilograms, plus weapons for the modern attack helicopter as well as the Mi-8 and Mi-17. That includes 1.5 million machine gun rounds. These have been used to attack cities from high altitudes. This video shows Russian weapons used on the Syrian people.

"These air bases are also for use by civilian aircraft in case of emergency. Now, the air bases are being used to supply the Syrian army in these areas.

"These civilian aircraft are the sole means to move weapons from Russia to Syria without being subjected to inspections. This is a clear message to the Security Council that the Russians are supplying weapons to Syria, thanks to an airman at the Hamah air base."

1. Hamah air base is located just southwest of the city of Hamah at 35 07N 36 43E. It is easily observed from Route 35 or the Kafr Bahum road.

2. The rockets referenced in the video are the S-5KP high-explosive/fragmentation shaped charge with a wound wire fragmentation jacket and sensitive piezoelectric impact fuse, and the S-5KO has a high-explosive/fragmentation warhead with 10 notched steel rings and 220 fragments. Nasty stuff, designed to kill tanks and people, respectively.

3. In the video, it shows the cargo from the IL-76 at 1:10, then at 1:46 it moves to the interior of an Mi-8 (NATO: HIP C). I have flown on Mi-8/Mi-17 helicopters in Iraq. That yellow tank is a 500-gallon extra fuel tank - I never really liked that. At 2:04, you see the launcher for the S-5 rockets mounted on a helicopter.

4. At 2:42, you see weapons/ammunition being transported in an IL-76. I was asked if this was the same IL-76 that landed at Hamah air base. I don't know for sure, but from personal experience, this is in fact the interior of an IL-76, and those sure look like Russian weapons crates.

5. Although the IL-76 aircraft are painted in the colors of Syrian Air, the civilian airline owned and operated by the Syrian government, the aircraft are actually part of the Syrian Air Force's 29th Air Brigade headquartered at the military ramp at Damascus International Airport. This is an IL-76T with registration YK-ATA.

6. I am told that many of the numerous IL-76 flights between Damascus and Moscow fly through Iraqi, Iranian and Azerbaijani airspace. This is not surprising, since the Turks have forced at least one Syrian Air flight to land, being suspected of transporting illicit cargo to the al-Asad government. If you have questionable (meaning illegal or illicit) cargo, only fly over countries who will not challenge you.

If you have not come to the conclusion that the Russians are materially supporting the Bashar al-Asad regime, I will say it. The Russians are supporting the Bashar al-Asad regime with weapons and ammunition.

Is that really a surprise to anyone?

October 20, 2012

Libya and the "October surprise"

Al-Qaidah in the Magreb (AQIM) fighters

A lot of political pundits are claiming that the seemingly unending revelations over the Obama Administrations missteps in its characterization of the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, may constitute the "October surprise" that often accompanies presidential elections. It is a piece of news or an event timed to coincide with the election to influence the body politic.

Examples of an October surprise were the release of George W. Bush's driving-while-under-the-influence records just before the voting in 2000, and the 1992 implication of Ronald Reagan's Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in the Iran–Contra affair.

Political commentator Dick Morris predicts that this election's surprise will be an announcement of a deal with Iran over its nuclear program whereby the Iranian regime will allow inspections in return for easing of sanctions, a political victory for President Barack Obama. Personally, I don't think anyone trusts the Iranians enough to view this as much of a victory, but it might be enough to sway enough undecided voters to give Obama a boost at the polls.

Here is my prediction of an October surprise that might work for the President. The President has not seen fit to take advantage of my keen observations and prescient advice in the past, so he might just ignore this as well.

The attack on the consulate in Benghazi was the result of a meticulously planned and well-executed terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility. I think the Administration's fantasy that the attack was an outgrowth of a spontaneous response to an obscure and unknown video have pretty much been shattered by now. The whole episode was an insult to the intelligence of most everyone. See my earlier article, Benghazi - spontaneous demonstration or planned attack? written five days after the event, weeks before the Administration owned up to the facts.

The President did commit to bringing the perpetrators to justice. All Americans agree with this notion, but once again, we see this Administration, as it has time and time again, seeking to treat terrorist attacks as criminal events. I find it ludicrous to believe that the FBI is going to be able to arrest up to 125 Islamist mujahidin (holy warriors)in Libya when they could not even access the crime scene for weeks after the incident.

For justice to be done - and it certainly needs to be done - we will have to take justice to the perpetrators. The best way, perhaps the only way, to do this is, Mr. President, is to act in accordance with the title you have often cited in your political campaign - commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces.

I believe the intelligence community is aware of the groups who conducted the attack in Benghazi - they have not been shy about it. We know where their camps are in Libya, Algeria, Mali and Niger, and we know who their leaders are. As you are aware, Mr. President, I have repeatedly advised you that you cannot talk to these people, you cannot reason with these people, you cannot negotiate with these people, and you cannot realistically arrest these people - you have to hunt them down and kill them.

I repeat, hunt them down and kill them. The hunting part is probably done by now, so it's time for the killing. There is your October surprise - kill these murderers, or should I say, bring justice to them.

October 16, 2012

Syrian air force cluster munitions reliability issues

RBK-250 Cluster bomb unit pieces and unexploded sub-munitions

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov's protestations to the contrary - "There is no confirmation to this..." - the Syrian air force is dropping Soviet/Russian-made cluster bombs on cities across Syria. The photographs are clear and detailed - these cluster bombs are the RBK-250.

The weapons are being used against civilian homes, which is not the best use of a cluster bomb. A cluster bomb is basically a canister filled with bomblets, sub-munitions that scatter over a wide area to kill large formations of troops and tanks.

Here is what a cluster bomb strike on a house looks like. Total misuse of the weapon.

Over the last few weeks, the Syrians have used an increasing amount of these munitions. Prior to that, we primarily saw the use of the FAB-250 250-kilogram general purpose bomb. Either the Syrians believe the cluster bombs will be more effective against the rebel-held urban areas, or they are running short of the general purpose bombs.

Additionally, there appear to be problems with the RBK-250 cluster munitions in the Syrian inventory. There are dozens of videos on YouTube the show issues with the units. Some of the canisters failed to open and disperse the sub-munitions, and others have opened, but many of the bomblets did not detonate.

Here in the video are examples of both issues. This is in Ma'ar Shurayn, about two miles northeast of the key chokepoint at Ma'arat al-Nu'aman, located at 35 40 05N 36 43 38E on the Homs-Aleppo highway.

The narrator says the first one (he called it a missile) was dropped from an aircraft and did not explode - members of the Free Syrian Army are removing it, fearing it will detonate and harm the civilian population. The second one also did not detonate - he said he believed it to be a cluster munition (it is) dropped from a MiG, and pointed out the sub-munitions.

It appears to me that the Syrians are really going after that area of Idlib governorate around Ma'arat al-Nu'man. The rebels took it earlier this week - it cuts the road from Damascus and Homs to Aleppo. The are bombing all these towns around that city - Jarjanaz, Ma'ar Shamshah, etc. It is critical to the regime to reopen the main resupply route from Damascus to Aleppo.

The numbers of unexploded cluster and general purpose bombs indicate a problem with either the maintenance of the weapons - are they expired or just not cared for? - or is there an issue with the fuses for the bombs? In any case, it is a serious issue for the Syrian air force. Nothing damages morale more among pilots than to have to fly into harm's way and deliver a weapon that does not function.

Of course, I hope they continue to have these issues.

October 15, 2012

Syrian Air Force losses as of 15 October 2012

Syrian Air Force Mi-17 (HIP H) downed over Damascus

According to a post on their Facebook page, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) claims to have downed or destroyed 71 military aircraft to date.

Here is the summary and breakdown:

Total number of aircraft downed and destroyed by the FSA as of 15 October 2012:

71 military aircraft, 57 of which are documented by video and photographs, 49 of which were shot down while bombing, 21 of which were destroyed on the ground at their bases, 27 of which were Sukhoi or MiG jets, and 44 of which were helicopters.

By governorate:
Idlib (in first place) - 34
Day al-Zawr - 11
Aleppo - 10
Damascus Suburbs* - 9
Hamah - 3
Dara' -2
Homs - 2

The FSA is very internet savvy, posting daily wrap-up reports as well as up-to-the-minute posts on current operations. Based on my review of many of these events, most of the shootdowns involve 14.5mm and 23mm anti-aircraft artillery weapons. The FSA does possess the SA-7 (GRAIL) shoulder fired surface-to-air missile system as well.

The Syrians may control the air, but they are paying a price for it.
* Rif Dimashq is actually a governorate by itself - the area of Damascus minus the actual city.

October 11, 2012

The military genius of Joe Biden....

Tonight's debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan highlighted some interesting military thinking by the Vice President. The overall vice-presidential debate is not the concern here - the sole issue is Joe Biden's absolute lack of understanding of military operations in general, and specifically how his policy of a date certain for withdrawal is perceived by our enemies. I will not address Biden's thoughts on Iran - his lack of understanding of that threat is mind-numbing, but a subject for another day.

I am going to keep this simple. It's not a hard concept to understand, yet I am amazed that the Vice President - and by extension, the President - doesn't get it. Neither have any military experience and thus seem to think that their political experience extends to the area of military strategy. It doesn't. What works on the south side of Chicago or in the bowels of the U.S. Senate does not work on the battlefields of the Middle East and South Asia. In other words, Biden is out of his element.

Here is the basic concept. I will use small, easy to understand words in case the Vice President and his military advisors are reading this.

If you tell the enemy the exact date when you are quitting the fight, leaving the battlefield and departing the area, you have told that enemy the exact date that he has won. It is exactly what happened in Iraq, and it is exactly what will happen in Afghanistan. Anyone who believes otherwise is either lying to himself or is not capable of understanding the basic military situation on the ground in this part of the world.

Yet, Vice President Biden, faced with numerous opportunities to clarify the stated Obama date certain withdrawal plan with some qualifications that would add some sense to what most military people think is a misguided policy, he failed to do so.

On at least five occasions, Biden stuck to his guns - stuck to what cannot be anything but a recipe for disaster, banging his fist on the desk to indicate his blind acceptance of a nonsensical policy.

His words:

"We're out of there in 2014."

"We're leaving in 2014, we are leaving in 2014, period."

"We will leave in 2014."

If you are either the Taliban or al-Qa'idah and hear this stated as American policy, you have to be thrilled. You tell yourself that all you have to do is lay low and survive until 2014 and then march in and take over. Or, you mount a campaign to speed up the withdrawal process and influence domestic public opinion in the United States by recruiting Islamist Afghan soldiers to kill their American advisors. It's working.

The Vice President goes on to state that 49 of our allies agree with this doctrine. I am not sure that's true, but I can tell you from having worked with our NATO allies in the past, I am not surprised that they are looking for any reason to leave. Without American troops, NATO is useless. Many of us joked (with some justification) that NATO actually stands for "not after two o'clock." So, bottom line - I don't care what our allies think, we should craft American foreign policy based on American national interests.

It gets more telling. The Vice President equates "trained Afghan soldier" with American troops. When questioned about withdrawing troops deployed for the surge, Biden said that every American troop that was withdrawn was replaced by a trained Afghan. If the Vice President honestly believes that a "trained Afghan" is the equivalent of an American soldier or marine, he is woefully misinformed.

In closing his keen military analysis, he defended the date certain for a withdrawal with the notion that if you tell the Afghans (as he claimed we did in Iraq) that we are leaving on a certain date, they will step up and take on the responsibility for their own security. In what universe? When you make these inane declarations, all it does is reinforce the belief among our Afghan allies that we are deserting them.

It's pretty simple. Tell the bad guys when we are leaving and they know the date they win. Tell our allies when we are leaving and they know we are deserting them. Both are disastrous, yet that is exactly the policy that the Vice President espouses. It is a blueprint for disaster, a blueprint for certain defeat.

Let's use a World War II analogy. President Franklin Roosevelt announces the he is going to withdraw American forces at the end of 1944 - after all, the French and British forces must assume responsibility for their own security. If we tell them we are leaving, it will force them to step up and take over. War on schedule, withdrawal on a timetable. Make sense? Of course it doesn't.

Mr. Vice President, if you insist on this flawed military strategy, you and President Obama will have ended both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Oh, yeah, you will have also lost both wars.

October 8, 2012

Iran's endorsement of Obama for re-election

It was probably an endorsement presidential candidate Barack Obama would have welcomed four years ago, but might not be a plus this time around. Four years ago, Mr. Obama repudiated then-President George W. Bush's policies toward the Islamic Republic, claiming that a new policy was in order to address the issues with Iran's nuclear program. Mr. Obama at that time espoused a policy of "engagement" with the mullahs in Tehran, believing that he could reason with them and bring about positive change in their positions.

I have been either working or following events in this part of the world for almost four decades. I usually laugh to myself when a novice comes forward with his belief that merely talking, maybe using different words, is going to change long-held positions and ideas. The people of the Middle East have been dealing and double-crossing each other and the rest of the world since the world began. To think that an organizer from south Chicago was going to change the Iranian leadership by force of persona was naive at best, arrogant at worst.

Four years later, the Iranians have yet to slow their uranium enrichment program, and President Obama's policy of "engagement" had failed to yield any results. The only things that have impacted the Iranian quest to develop a nuclear weapon are the cyber attacks on the uranium enrichment effort itself and increased economic sanctions on the country. The sanctions are in place over the President's wishes - he must still think that at some point, he is going to be able to negotiate with the Iranian leadership.

Mr. President, we've been down this road how many times since you've been in office? What do we have to show for it? Nothing. Every time there are talks, it yields the same results. The Iranians agree to talk about having more talks. All the while, the centrifuges continue to spin and their stockpile of enriched uranium increases.

Mr. President, do you sense a pattern here? The Iranians have made it abundantly clear that they are not interested in talks - talks for them are merely a tactic to delay actions against them. To use one of your favorite phrases: let me be clear, they do not want to talk to you.

However, the Iranians do want to see you re-elected so you can continue your what many would describe as misguided policies. The fact that the speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani favors your re-election should give you pause - that endorsement essentially validates the failure of your position.

In Speaker Larijani's own words, "We are leaning more in favor of Barack Obama because he is more flexible and rational...."

Those are troubling words, especially coming from the leader of Iran. Yes, that Iran - the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism, the people who brought the world Hizballah, the people who killed American hostages in Lebanon in the 1980s, the people who seized the American Embassy in Tehran and took and held 52 American hostages in 1979-80, the regime that trained, funded and equipped anti-American militias in Iraq and Afghanistan (and may still be doing so), the people who have vowed to eradicate the State of Israel, the people who are hell-bent on acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and the means with which to deliver those weapons. Yes, them.

The thought that the Iranian leadership want you re-elected should concern you. It sure does concern me.

October 7, 2012

Syrian helicopter downed near Damascus

These three clips posted on YouTube by members of the Free Syrian Army document the October 5th shoot down of an Mi-17 (NATO: HIP H) just east of Damascus, in an area known as the Ghutah, directly north of Damascus International Airport. It is also very close to the Syrian air force's helicopter base at Marj as-Sultan (33 30N 36 28E). At 0:22 in the clip, the helicopter is hit, possibly causing a piece of the main rotor to sever the tail rotor from the aircraft, which constitutes non-recoverable damage. As the helicopter falls, the main rotor appears to separate from the aircraft as well. Watch:

The helicopter appears to have been downed by a ZPU-1 14.5mm anti-aircraft gun mounted in the bed of a pickup truck, and claimed by the so-called Abu Musa al-Ash'ari (أبو موسى الأشعرى) brigade.* Watch:

The wreckage fell in a field and burned. Watch:

The Syrian air force has relied on its Mi-8/17 (HIP) fleet for a variety of missions against the Free Syria Army. These missions include reconnaissance, artillery spotting, air assault, and ground attack (See my earlier article, HIP action - Syrian style.

The Syrian air force has developed a new tactic - dropping barrels of munitions from helicopters on populated areas. Here is a video clip of the aftermath of an attack near the central city of al-Rastan with what the population simply calls al-birmil ("the barrel").

My gist: the narrator begins with the assessment that the damage shown is the result of tank and mortar fire. When he asks the boy what happened, the boy responded that it was actually the result of "the barrel" dropped from a helicopter, that there was no tank fire. The boy also said that most of the residents have been forced out of their homes and have fled the area - they can't stay outside here as winter is coming, and they can't return to their houses.

Despite a few losses, the regime's dominance of the air - they have used L-39 light attack aircraft, MiG-23 fighter-bombers, Sukhoi-22 fighter-bombers, Mi-25 helicopter gunships and the Mi-8/17 assault helicopters - is having a devastating effect on not only the fighters of the Free Syria Army, but any civilian area suspected of harboring or merely sympathizing with the opposition.


* The brigade is named for Abu Musa al-Ash'ari, was a companion of the prophet Muhammad and important figure in early Islamic history. He was at various times governor of al-Basrah and al-Kufah (both in present day Iraq), and was involved in the early Muslim conquests of Persia.

October 5, 2012

Saudi Arabia - driving and virginity....

Left: Yes to women driving cars - Right: The other opinion

You can't make this stuff up.

According to a report commissioned by the highest religious council in the kingdom ( مجلس الافتاء الأعلى / majlis al-ifta' al-'ala), allowing women to drive in the kingdom would "provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce."

I have spent too much time in "the magic kingdom," including working closely with the senior Saudi military staff during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, so I might be a bit critical of the Saudis. In fact, I have had numerous conversations with a variety of Saudis on the subject of women driving.

General Schwarzkopf and me in Saudi Arabia

The casual conversations were in addition to having to address the issue officially. Shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, I was deployed to Saudi Arabia to serve as General Norman Schwarzkopf's Arabic language interpreter. I was chosen because I had served as a liaison to the Iraqi armed forces in Baghdad during the last year of the Iran-Iraq War. I was familiar with the Iraqi military and knew many of the senior officers American forces would eventually face on the battlefields of Kuwait and southern Iraq.

While the bulk of American troops and their equipment were arriving in a seemingly never-ending stream of heavy-lift aircraft and ships, there were limited duties for me as General Schwarzkopf's interpreter, so I was assigned liaison duties with the Saudi General Staff. It was frustrating and thankless.

One of the myriad issues that arose during the initial phases of Desert Shield was the issue of American military women driving. At first, the Saudis told us that the women could not drive while in the kingdom. Long (and frustrating) story short, after we explained that many of our transportation units comprised men and women drivers, and without the women, it would be extremely difficult to move the tanks, artillery, supplies, etc. from the ports to the unit garrisons, and later to the battlefields.

After some discussion, the Saudis issued a decree that "American military women while in uniform are not women." Issue solved, but as I said, you can't make this stuff up.

There have been instances when women have attempted to force the issue by driving, or holding rallies. All have met with resistance, failure, and in some cases, arrests and punishments. See my May 2011 article on this and other issues about Saudi women driving, Women driving in Saudi Arabia? I give up.

Now we have the study from prepared at the behest of the senior clerics in the kingdom that concludes that within 10 years of the women being allowed to drive, there will be "no more virgins" in the Saudi Arabia.

One of the so-called professors who authored the study recounted an encounter with a women at a coffee shop in another Arab country. His words: "All the women were looking at me. One made a gesture that made it clear that she was available. This is what happens when women are allowed to drive."

Driving leads to women attempting to pick up men in coffee shops? I don't know what to say - but it gets even better!

The kingdom is currently considering banning women, who must already cover their hair, faces, arms and legs, from allowing their eyes to show through their veils if the eyes are judged to be "too tempting."

Again, you can't make this stuff up. Well, I'm heading for the coffee shop.

October 3, 2012

Mortar attack on Turkish town - memo to Damascus

Below is a memo I am sending to Syrian President Bashar al-Asad. It concerns an exchange of fire between Syrian and Turkish military forces in a border city just over 250 miles northeast of Damascus.

Location of incident - 250 miles from Damascus

Mortar rounds fired by members of the Syrian army from Tal Abyad struck the Turkish city of Akcakale, killing five civilians and wounding at least ten others. You can view these two cities at these coordinates: Akcakale 36 42 50N 38 57 00E, and Tal Abyad at 36 41 52N 38 57 10E.

Akcakale, Turkey (above) and Tal Abyad, Syria (below)

Akcakale is located on the Turkish-Syrian border and is a busy transit station for goods moving between the two countries, and in transit through the two countries.

Akcakale, Turkey (top) - Tal Abyad, Syria (bottom) border station

In response, Turkish artillery batteries fired rounds on Syrian targets south of the border. The Turkish military spokesman made it clear that the Turkish artillery employed counter-battery radar to target its rounds in Syria. Counter-battery radar is used to calculate the position of missile, artillery and mortar batteries that have fired towards the radar.

The Turks have called for a meeting of NATO ambassadors at NATO headquarters in Brussels under Article 4 of the NATO charter which provides for consultations when a member state feels its territorial integrity, political independence or security is under threat. The charter states that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all NATO countries.

President al-Asad should really clamp down on his troops in the field. I am not sure why the Syrians would want to attack Akcakale - perhaps the border crossing is suspected of being used to smuggle weapons to the Free Syrian Army. Tal Abyad, the town from where the mortar attacks originated, is home to the Syrian military security training center. The military security force is loyal to the al-Asad regime.

In light of events, I believe it only fair to provide some free advice to the Syrian president.


DATE: 3 October 2012

FROM: Rick Francona

SUJECT: Syrian Armed Forces Shelling of Turkish Border City

TO: President Bashar al-Asad, Syrian Arab Republic

Mr. President / سيادة الرئيس بشار الأسد

In case your advisors have not informed you, Syrian army units fired mortar rounds from Tal Abyad into Akcakale, Turkey. Given that the incident venue is over 250 miles from Damascus, and you likely have your hands full killing your own population throughout the country, it may not have risen to the level of interrupting your destruction of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Aleppo.

However, ignoring this incident would be the height of folly. While your armed forces may be capable of maintaining an edge in in the fighting over the ill-trained and poorly equipped Free Syrian Army, they are by no measure a match for the better-trained and equipped Turkish armed forces. Do not think that the downing of an unarmed Turkish RF-4 reconnaissance jet in possibly international airspace reflects the comparative capabilities of the Turkish and Syrian military forces.

You may also be aware that Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). While it is doubtful that NATO will respond with force to this provocation, it is technically provided for in NATO's charter.

Mr. President, you are playing with fire. You have enough on your plate right now without taking on the much superior Turkish armed forces, and certainly do not need to invite NATO to destroy much of your military infrastructure.

Up until now, NATO has remained wary of your actions but has not contemplated intervention. Keep attacking NATO members and that situation may change. Please do not make the mistake of other nations and underestimate the military capabilities of the members of the alliance. They have taken apart much more capable air defenses than those of the Syrian armed forces.

Mr. President, we met once in Damascus, right after the unfortunate death of your brother Basil. You seemed like a pretty intelligent man, but given your actions over the last 20 months, I am beginning to change that assessment.

Rick Francona
Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force (Retired)
Former Air Attache to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus

October 1, 2012

Destruction of a World Heritage site in Aleppo

The fighting in Aleppo is destroying irreplaceable world heritage sites in Syria. This video was taken in the old city of Aleppo in the al-Saba' Bahrat (Seven Fountains) neighborhood of the city. The fountains (visible on imagery at 36° 12′ 7″ N, 37° 9′ 21″ E) are adjacent to the ancient souk that has suffered major damage in the past week.

Estimates of destroyed shops in the souk range from 700 to 1000. The entire area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site - much of it is now gone.

Here is a gist of the narration (my translation):

September 30, 2012 - Mortar rounds have caused great destruction and many fires in the al-Saba' Bahrat neighborhood. Asad and his soldiers are burning the city. His regime, his tanks, his troops are systematically undertaking an operation to burn the entire city. Oh my God.

This type of damage is probably inevitable in a civil war like what we have now in Syria. As many as 27,000 people have been killed. Both sides are determined to win at any cost, regardless of the damage done to some of the world's historic treasures.

A few weeks ago, there were reports of army artillery batteries shelling the Qala'at al-Husn (also called the Crac des Chevaliers) - the 12th Century Crusader fortress west of the trouble city of Homs - the fortress is arguably the best preserved medieval castle in the world.

The situation in Aleppo will likely get worse before there is a resolution to the crisis. Since there seems to be no interest in the West in any action other than words denouncing the regime of Bashar al-Asad, the killing and destruction will continue.

The rebels must win in Aleppo if they are to continue the fight. The regime has surrounded the city and is attempting to starve the rebels out. Given the superior firepower of the Syrian Army and the complete dominance of the sky - the Syrian Air Force has been fairly effective in spreading fear and destruction - it may be only a matter of time until the revolution in Aleppo is crushed.

If Bashar al-Asad survives this revolution, it will likely by another generation or more before people again take up arms against the government in Damascus.