Syrian rebels say they have shot down a military helicopter near Aleppo, and stunning video of the event is now surfacing on the internet. If true, he surface-to-air missiles mark a significant advancement in the rebels' military capabilities.
The New York Times relates:
In one video, a utility helicopter that appeared to be a Russian-built Mi-8 can be seen banking in a slow left turn and then being hit squarely near its engine by a fast-moving projectile rising at a sharp angle from below. Another video showed what appeared to be the same helicopter moments after the strike. The crippled aircraft manages a partly controlled descent in spreading flames, as a voice off-camera shouts, “sarook,” or rocket, before it strikes the ground and explodes.
In recent months, rebels have used mainly machine guns to shoot down several Syrian Air Force helicopters and fixed-wing attack jets. In this case the thick smoke trailing the projectile, combined with the elevation of the aircraft, strongly suggested that the helicopter was hit by a missile.
Rebels hailed the event as the culmination of their long pursuit of effective antiaircraft weapons, though it was not clear if the downing was an isolated tactical success or heralded a new phase in the war that would present a meaningful challenge to the Syrian government’s air supremacy.
Debate has raged since the start of the insurgency over whether Western and Arab nations should provide Syria’s rebels with portable antiaircraft missiles, often called Manpads. Some fear that such weapons could be smuggled away from the conflict and later used by terrorists against civilian airliners.
Here are some still shots from one of the videos:
The alleged rebels can be heard yelling "Allahu Akbar!" over and over, sprinkled in with "We hit it!" according to Al Jazeera.
The New York Times continues:
Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, called the use of the missile “a big deal, but not a surprising deal,” and said it appeared to confirm one of two things: weapons seized from bases are functional, or that there has been truth to the quiet talk that after the recent meeting in Doha, Qatar, to reorganize the Syrian opposition into a new coalition, outside countries would provide more sophisticated weapons to the rebels.
Since that, several Arab countries and France have recognized the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, perhaps making it more politically palatable to provide rebels with the weapons.
In interviews over the past months, Syria’s rebel have described a concerted effort to acquire and master such weapons. Last month, a rebel commander in Idlib said that he had received a small quantity of Soviet heat-seeking missiles dating to 1974 and that one had been used to shoot down a helicopter. That downing could not be independently confirmed.
He also said his fighters had seized numerous heavy machine guns from government bases and that more weapons had been delivered from Libya via Qatar. He said rebels’ tactics and skills were improving. “They know how and where to set or position the launchers,” he said.
Here are the videos, via The Washington Post: