Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Hind Gunship Is One of Syria’s Worst Terror Weapons

 'For three weeks starting in early June 2016, the Damascus suburb of Darayya was exposed to merciless aerial bombardment carried out primarily by Mil Mi-25 — NATO code name “Hind” — gunship helicopters belonging to the Syrian Arab Air Force.

 The Hinds dropped no fewer than 564 bombs over this period, underscoring the Mi-25’s reputation as one of Syria’s worst terror weapons.

 Hinds deployed in combat starting in June 2011, in central Idlib Governorate. Through 2012, reports began to circulate that the regime in Damascus had ordered all SyAAF squadron commanders to bomb civilians in insurgent-controlled areas. Damascus instructed all commanding officers at first, and then all officers in each operational unit, to acknowledge the order with their signatures.

 Although a majority of SyAAF pilots at that time were Alawite — there were by then very few Christians, Druze and Sunnis left with the service — the order met with strong dissent. Pilots who refused to obey the order disappeared. A few re-appeared after a week or two in prison, where torture was not uncommon. Others were never seen again.

 This mistreatment led to surge in defections — not only by Sunnis, but foremost by Alawites. Tragically, regime agents retaliated against many defectors by kidnapping their families. Learning from this lesson, other aircrew continued to serve for a few months longer, preferring to find various excuses not to fly while searching for ways to bring their families to the relative safety of refugee camps in Turkey or Jordan prior to their own defections.

 Nevertheless, a majority of Alawite pilots — raised to hate the Sunnis — continued serving and thus became involved in the regime’s campaign of annihilation targeting all opponents.

 Contrary to standard practice in any other air force on the world, Syria’s notorious air force intelligence branch suppresses reporting on all incidents resulting from poor maintenance. After five years of intensive operations, the SyAAF’s Hinds and other aircraft are, once again, worn out. In recent months at least two air force helicopters literally disintegrated from vibration damage. It’s obvious that only the most fanatical supporters of the regime continue to serve.

 Under such circumstances, the tactics of Syrian Mi-25 crews are unsurprisingly conservative. Instead of operating at low altitudes and combining the effects of their machine guns and unguided rockets to saturate air defenses in the target zone prior to deploying bombs, SyAAF crews are dropping their bombs from altitudes of more than 1,500 meters.

 Because the air force has run out of stocks of conventional bombs, nowadays its Mi-25s often carry so-called “barrel bombs.” These are improvised explosive devices filled with nails and various metal trash — and TNT.

 Few crews have extensive flying experience. Some managed to teach themselves how to operate their helicopters without the benefit of standard tactical manuals. Some use Google Earth for navigation.

 Target selection is ad hoc. After five years of war, crew have abandoned all pretense of “precision.” In the words of several of SyAAF pilots, there is no other priority but to — literally — “cause mass destruction” and “burn Sunnis.” '

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