Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Al-Nusra front fighters shoot down Syrian recon plane.

A Polish SU-22 similar to the one shot down in Syria. Adrian Pingstone

Purported video of the crash. 

The al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra front in Syria has shot down a Syrian SU-22. Reuters. The pilot was able to eject but he was immediately captured by al-Nusra. Syria claims that the pilot was on a reconnaissance mission and was hit by a surface to air missile. The plane was shot down over the Talat al-Iss highland area, south of Aleppo, which was just recently captured by al-Nusra. It is unclear where al-Nusra received the surface to air missiles, as western groups have been reluctant to supply the weapons to any rebel groups for fear of the weapons falling into the wrong hands. 

My Comment:
A note about the above video. These videos tend to not stay up on Youtube for very long, but I posted it anyways. As always, with footage out of Syria, take it with a grain of salt. There is always a chance that this video is from something else, though it does match what I have seen on twitter. Keep in mind though, that it might not be an accurate video.

On to the issue at hand. It is always big news when al-Qaeda linked militants manage to bring down an airplane. In this case it was an antiquated SU-22, if I have correctly identified the plane. Though the SU-22 was a legitimate target, it is always feared that al-Nusra or other militant groups will export these weapons and use them for terrorism. I am sure that al-Qaeda or ISIS would love to use these weapons to shoot down a commercial airliner. So far they haven't been able to, but with the proliferation of these weapons, anything is possible. 

If it wasn't clear, I was talking about MANPADS. These are the missile launchers that can be fired from the shoulder and can hit targets flying up to 20,000 feet, depending on the model. Most commercial airliners fly higher then that, but they are vulnerable on take off and landing. Combat jets, like the SU-22 that was shot down, fly much lower and make better targets. In all truth, my guess is that al-Nusra needs these MANPADS to defend themselves against Syrian and Russian jets and won't use them for terrorism, but if these weapons were to fall into the hands of ISIS then all bets are off. 

I do worry about what happened to this pilot. Though al-Nusra isn't quite as brutal as ISIS, they are still blood thirsty killers. They have executed prisoners before, and there are reports that the pilot was beaten severely when he was captured. I am hoping that they show him some mercy, but I seriously doubt he will receive any. The best case scenario is that they leave him in a cell and let him recover from his wounds. The worst case scenario is little better then what ISIS would do to him, only al-Nusra is much less likely to record it and post it on the internet. 

Almost all of the rebel groups in Syria routinely commit war crimes when it comes to pilots who are shot down. We saw that last year when the Russian pilot was shot down and killed by Turkmen rebels in northern Syria. And there are dozens of videos online showing troops on the ground shooting at parachutes as they descend from the sky. Such attacks are common in the Syrian conflict, and given the circumstances it is almost amazing that the pilot was captured alive. 

It's rather disgusting behavior, but I guess it makes sense in a way. I am in no way condoning what al-Nusra and other groups have done, but I think the desire for revenge is understandable. After all, most of the time these rebel groups can do little to nothing when they are attacked by jets. They mostly just have to take cover and hope that they don't get hit. That feeling of helplessness is what is fueling these war crimes. 

Al-Nusra hasn't made the news much lately but they are still almost as big of a threat as ISIS is. Indeed, they have just launched a new offensive in the Aleppo area, which is where this attack happened. They have taken some territory from the regime and the fear is that if they aren't stopped they will sever the highway to Aleppo. 

If that happens it will be a disaster for the regime and for the people of Aleppo. Which is why so many Syrian and Russian jets are flying in this area. Air power has been the trump card for the regime for most of the war, but if al-Nusra continues to have success in shooting down planes it could counter that advantage. Pilots in the area may be more skittish and commanders may be less willing to deploy assets. Neither of these things bode well for the defenders of Aleppo.

Still, I do think that this offensive will fail in its goals, even if Russian and Syrian jets have to be a bit more careful. The stakes are way too high for the Syrians to fold completely. The problem is that Syria may have to redeploy assets away from their offensive against ISIS in the central part of the country. I mentioned that yesterday in my post about ISIS losing another town, and I might have been proven right already. My hope is that the defenders against al-Nusra won't need much help and that they can push back al-Nusra without taking up resources in the fight against ISIS. 

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