Monday, September 10, 2012

Rebel Downing of Regime Aircraft and What it Means

I received a request for a list of the dates and locations for all instances of rebels shooting down regime aircraft. It was posited that perhaps an examination of the list would indicate a new capability among the rebels that could obviate the need for foreign support.

I can only confirm seven instances in which the rebels have shot down regime aircraft (if anyone has other examples, please share).

The List:

Rebels first shot down a helicopter around June 26 in Maardebseh, Idlib. The Suqour al-Sham Brigade and the Shuhada Jebel al-Zawiyah Battalion deployed mounted heavy machine guns during the battle and both claimed responsibility.

On July 7, members of the Jafar al-Tayyar Battalion in Deir Ezzor shot down a surveillance aircraft.

On August 13, rebels in the town of Mohasan, Deir Ezzor shot down a MiG jet with an anti-aircraft machine gun.

On August 27, rebels in Damascus shot down a helicopter in the vicinity of the Jobar neighborhood.

In late August, the Shuhada Jebel al-Zawiyah Battalion sustained a week long attack on the Abu Dhuhur airport. They shot down two MiGs during the course of the battle, one on August 31 and one on September 4.

On September 5, the Saif al-Islam Battalion of the al-Islam Brigade shot down a helicopter over Damascus


Regime aircraft have been shot down across a wide geographic area. This indicates that a foreign supporter is not providing unique arms to a specific rebel network. Additionally, the rebels used anti-aircraft machine guns in all instances in which the weapon used to shoot down an aircraft could be identified.

The rebels are mostly likely acquiring these weapons during raids on regime positions. As the rebels captured small regime positions during the spring, they seized weapons caches which were then used to attack larger regime positions during the summer, from which they seized larger amounts of weapons. This snowball effect accounts for a part of the rebel’s growing strength.

Another factor in the recent increase in aircraft being shot down has been the regime’s growing use of aircraft. The regime only began using helicopters in earnest in May and fixed-wing aircraft in July, providing the rebels their first opportunities to shoot down aircraft. The two MiGs that were shot down in late-August and early-September occurred at the Abu Dhuhur airport where rebels had penetrated the perimeter of the airport, making it much easier to shoot down aircraft taking off and landing.

Although the rebels are able to shoot down aircraft, it does not happen very often. This explains the rebel’s newest tactic of attacking air bases. The rebels have not been able to protect their villages, cities, or armored vehicles by shooting regime aircraft out of the sky. The rebels have therefore begun destroying aircraft on the ground by assaulting or capturing air bases in Abu Kamal, Taftanaz, Abu Dhuhur, and Mengh. The rebels do not have a sufficiently strong anti-aircraft capability, but their growing ability to seize large regime bases may obviate their need for advanced anti-aircraft weapons.

Unconfirmed reports of rebels downing aircraft: 

June 23, the Salman al-Farisi Battalion claimed that they had shot down a helicopter in al-Bab, Aleppo

On July 17, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that “several witnesses report that a military helicopter was downed in the Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus”

On July 20, The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that there were “reports that a helicopter has been shot down in the (Harasta, Damascus) area.”

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