Syria: Russian helicopter shot down


Erik Skaarsgard – Europe Correspondent

The Brief:

A Russian Mi-8 helicopter has been shot-down by opposition forces in Syria, killing all five aboard. According to the Defence Ministry, the supply helicopter was on a humanitarian delivery to the city of Aleppo when it came under fire from rebel ground forces.

According to the Russian government’s mouthpiece, RT, the three crew members and two officers aboard were on a mission for the Russian Reconciliation Centre in Syria. After delivering aid to civilians within Aleppo, the chopper came under fire as it returned to base. All aboard were killed during the crash, with graphic video emerging of rebel forces displaying the dead and mutilating their bodies.

In a statement, General Sergey Rudskoy told reporters that:

“The helicopter was hit from the ground in an area under control of the armed units of Al-Nusra Front terrorist group and the troops of the so-called ‘moderate opposition’ who joined them”

Rebels look on at the wreck of the Russian Mi-8 that crashed on the 1st of August, 2016.

An international mess:

Russia’s continuing support for President Bashaar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria remains a sore point for the United States and it’s coalition. The two have been at odds at how to handle the ongoing civil war that has now raged for more than five years since 2011.

The US has repeatedly accused Russia of bombing the ‘moderate’ Rebel forces that it has armed and supplied in an effort to topple Al-Assad’s regime. Russia has replied, in turn, that the very rebels the US supports have been responsible for acts of terror, and have also defected or supported Islamic Extremists such as Islamic State or al-Nusra Front. The US insists that any peace deal must have al-Assad account for the extreme tactics of the regime to cling to power, such as the use of indiscriminate bombing and barrel bombs.

Fighting between the various factions backed by the opposing outside groups means peace remains highly unlikely in the near future.

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An Mi-25 attack helicopter, similar to the one lost in July. Photo: US Air Force MSGT Steven Turner

The cost of intervention:

Over the past year, three helicopters have now been lost by Russia. 13 soldiers have lost their lives since Russia greatly increased up its military support in late 2015, when the Syrian government looked to be on the verge of collapse. Since then, it has waged an effective though controversial bombing campaign in support of government troops.

In July, an Mi-25 attack chopper was shot down near Palmyra, killing the two Russian pilots after they were engaged in a fight with Islamic State troops. In April, an Mi-28N attack helicopter crashed near the city of Homs after mechanical failure killing both pilots. Last October another Mi-8 was forced to make an emergency landing under fire, and was then destroyed by IS fighters during a daring rescue mission to recover a Su-24M bomber pilot controversially shot down by a Turkish fighter jet after it strayed into Turkish air-space.

The Syrian Army has lost several aircraft over the past two months, which has led experts to believe that thy may now be being armed with more sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons. MANPADS for example – shoulder-mounted Surface-to-air missiles – would explain a sharp rise in loyalist casualties who have so far been able to maintain an edge over the opposition thanks to their dominance through unopposed air-power.

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