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.