By Peter Clifford © (www.petercliffordonline.com/syria-iraq-news-5/)
SYRIA – IRAQ – NEWS
The scenario that many dreaded (EDITOR: Including me. Below is my best interpretation of events compiled from many conflicting reports) happened yesterday, Tuesday, with the downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber over Syria by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet.
Stricken Russian Su-24 Before it Plunges to Earth
Turkey said the Russian plane had been warned “10 times” not to invade their airspace, while Russia said their plane had been shot down over Syrian airspace.
Both statements seem to be correct.
While engaged in bombing raids (the Free Syrian Army [FSA] says the Russian plane had just bombed civilians in Jisr Al-Shughour in Idlib province) the Su-24 had passed several times over a “peninsular” along the Turkish border that sticks out into Syria.
As the Su-24 can fly as fast as 815 mph, to cross this peninsular (see map below) would take 17 seconds or less.
After warnings were ignored, the Turkish F-16 then fired an air-to-air missile, probably from Turkish airspace, which struck the Russian bomber over Syria, bringing it down on the Syrian side a few kilometres from the Syrian/Turkish frontier, HERE:
The pilot and the navigator, who sit side by side in the Su-24 cockpit, ejected from the stricken aircraft as it plunged towards the ground and as they parachuted earthwards, local Turkmen militia, who are anti-Assad and aligned to the FSA, fired upon them killing one, thought to be the navigator, HERE:
While the Turkmen produced video of the dead navigator, Lieutenant Colonel Peshkov, the whereabouts of the pilot, Captain Konstantin Murakhtin, was at the time unknown.
The Russians sent 2 helicopters on a search and rescue mission over the Turkman mountains in northern Latakia province, but these in turn were fired upon by the local militia causing one of them to crash land.
The FSA 2nd Coastal Division then took out this M1-8 helicopter as it was parked on the ground after a forced landing with a (US-made) TOW anti-tank missile, HERE:
A Russian marine in the helicopter was also killed, though it is not clear whether he was shot from the ground or died when the helicopter exploded. The rest of the crew were later rescued.
The Turkmen claimed at one point that they had both the Russians from the downed Su-24, and while this may have been the case for a while, this was not verified.
Latest reports today, Wednesday, say that Russian and Syrian special forces mounted a 12 hour operation on Tuesday night that penetrated 4.5 kilometres into Opposition territory in the Turkman Mountains, rescuing the pilot, Captain Muraktin, and returning him to his base near Latakia, “safe and well”.
Speaking from Hmeymim airbase Wednesday afternoon, where his plane was based, the rescued pilot said that they had received “no warning”, though that is contradicted by Colonel Steve Warren, an American military spokesman in Baghdad, who says that recorded communication between the Turkish and Russian pilots showed that the Turks did warn the Russian plane 10 times before they shot it down.
This map shows the Turkish border (in turquoise) and the flight of the Russian Su-24 (in red), here:
Border Area Where Russian Jet Crossed into Turkey
While the whole incident had the potential to escalate completely out of hand, with Turkey calling in its NATO partners and then facing up against Russia, it is most likely to turn into a war of words, economic sanctions by Russia on Turkey and lots of military posturing.
President Obama, President Holland and Chancellor Merkel called for “restraint”, while Putin burbled on about a “stab in the back committed by accomplices of terrorists” and promised “serious consequences”.
Putin also claimed that their plane was attacking “Islamic State terrorists”, though there are no known IS Jihadists anywhere near Jisr Al-Shughour where the plane had recently bombed or the Turkman Mountain area.
The Russian Ministry of Defence has said that in future its bombers will be accompanied by defensive fighter jets, it will be sending its advanced S-400 air defence system to Syria to protect its airbase, and the missile cruiser “Moskva” will be deployed off the Syrian coast to “destroy any targets threatening Russian planes”.
Sergie Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, also cancelled a planned visit to Turkey’s capital, Ankara, scheduled for today, Wednesday, saying that the incident “really looks like a planned provocation” but adding, “We do not plan to go to war with Turkey, our attitude toward the Turkish people has not changed.”
Not the feelings of some Russians apparently. Around a 1,000 attacked the Turkish embassy in Moscow today, Wednesday, smashing all the windows and generally doing their best to wreck it. The Russian police did not intervene.
Russians have also been told to avoid visiting Turkey, one of their favourite package holiday destinations, where they “may not be safe”.
Opposition Fighter in Northern Latakia
The Turkmen are of Turkish decent and have lived in this region since the 11th century.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, many of them have been trained and armed by Turkish special forces.
In Latakia, the Jabal al-Turkman Brigade, which was formed in 2013, comprises of 12 armed units, and its their 2nd Coastal Division, which was formed in 2015 and backed by the FSA, which is involved in the latest incident.
Assad’s and Russian planes regularly bomb the Turkmen villages and kill their civilian population, many of whom now live in tents in the mountains.
Hardly surprising then that they will fire at Russian military helicopters and Russian bomber crew, given the opportunity.
The BBC has more detail on the Turkmen Opposition.
Russia will have to retaliate somewhere and the Turkmen are now their most likely target, indeed latest reports suggest that the Russians have fired 4 cruise missiles at their northern Latakia bases this morning, Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air support advanced into the Latakia Turkman territory at Rashwan Hill and the villages of Katf al-Ghader, Ain Samoukh, Jib al-Ahmar and Ruwysat al-Mallouha.
Both the BBC and Al Jazeera have video summaries of all the events.
- Map of Northern Latakia Showing Turkish Border
ANOTHER REPORTED ISRAELI ATTACK ON HEZBOLLAH AND ASSAD POSITIONS IN SYRIA’S QALAMOUN, WHILE DRUZE RESIST CONSCRIPTION:
As if all the above were not enough, on Monday night it is alleged that Israel once again bombed Hezbollah and Syrian Army positions in the mountainous Qalamoun region between Damascus and Lebanon.
According to reports, after several hours of reconnaissance flights above the area the Israeli Air Force (IAF) made 2 attacks on a joint Hezbollah/Assad position in the Ras Al-Maara mountains, immediately followed by a 3rd raid on another position in the Qara mountains.
A 4th raid hit a Hezbollah position on Flita mountain. 8 Hezbollah fighters and 5 Syrian troops are said to have been killed in the attacks, as well as injuring dozens more who were rushed to Yabrud and Nabk hospitals, several of them critically injured.
French Nuclear Aircraft Carrier Charles de Gaulle
Also on Monday, France moved its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle into combat position off the Syrian coast and launched a series of bombing raids against Islamic State positions in Tal Afar in Iraq.
The Charles de Gaulle, which is powered by 2 nuclear reactors, carries 26 attack aircraft, tripling France’s capacity to bomb IS targets in Syria and Iraq.
In Aleppo province, heavy fighting continues between the Opposition coalition and pro-Assad forces south of Aleppo. The Opposition have re-captured 10 villages this week in a counter-offensive, driving back an enemy composed mainly of Iranian militia. Latest reports say opposition fighters have captured Banes.
Footage of a successful Opposition TOW strike against a regime communications station on Tel Eis, HERE:
North of Aleppo, Opposition fighters have also struck back at regime positions in Bashkoi, reportedly destroying a total of 10 rocket launchers, tanks and armoured vehicles.
Turkish Tanks Being Brought by Train to the Syrian Border
In what may well be a retaliatory strike following yesterday’s loss of a jet bomber, Russian planes this afternoon bombed Azaz in northern Aleppo province just 4 kilometres from the border with Turkey, hitting a number of trucks, many of which are probably Turkish, HERE:
As tensions grow, there are additionally reports of an increased concentration of Turkish tanks along the Syrian/Turkish border and overflights of Turkish helicopters 3 to 4 kilometres into Rojava, Kurdish territory, north of Hasakah.
In southern Suweida province, which is predominately Druze, a resistance to compulsory conscription gathers pace.
More than ten Druze communities have refused to allow the Assad regime to compulsorily register their young men for military conscription and have said they will fight the authorities if they attempt to take the men by force.
With an increasing lack of manpower, and increasing dependence on foreign militia, the Assad regime was thought in May to have at least 70,000 young men in provinces it wholly or partially controls skipping conscription.
Lastly, there are still people in the world that care and act on the hell that is Syria, this time in the US, HERE: