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Khmeimim Troubles
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Some pretty strange things going on at Khmeimim.

1. On Jan 3, 2018, Kommersant reported:

  • The destruction of seven (!) planes at the Russian airbase in Syria, including four Su-24, two Su-35C, and one An-72 transport.
  • More than ten servicemen were injured
  • An ammo dump was destroyed

This was supposedly the result of an Islamist mortar shelling of the base on Dec 31, 2017.

Such a degree of damage does not seem plausible for a mortar shelling.

2. The following day the Russian Defense Ministry reported two military deaths in the event, but denied that seven planes had been destroyed.

3. On the same day, war correspondent Roman Saponkov published pictures of a damaged Su-24:

khmeimim-damanged-fighter

As well as the following report:

Provisionally, 6 Su-24, one Su-35C, one An-72, and one An-30 recon plane, and one Mi-8 [were damaged]. Two Su-324 and the Su-35C have been repaired.

Incidentally, it is curious to note that Dec 31 also saw the crash in Hama of a Mi-24 helicopter as a result of a bad landing due to technical problems, as a result of which its two pilots died. Shoddy repairs?

4. Various theories were floating around – the official explanation of mortars was none too convincing, while others speculated that the ammo base was blown up by accident.

However, things soon became clearer, when on Dec 5, war correspondent Ivan Sidorenko reported there was a large explosion in the skies over Jableh due to Russian AA batteries intercepting a missile or drone that was going to bomb Khmeimim. Soon after, the Syrians published a drone-like contraption that had just 2 grenades attached to it, which they had apparently shot down with just light firearms on Dec 2.

khmeimim-responsibilityOn the night of Dec 6, there were yet more drone attacks on the base. This time, Ahrar Al-Alawi (FSA Free Alawite Movement) claimed responsibility, now claiming they had also taken out an S-400 as well as another aircraft, and promising “painful” days up to the time of Putin’s elections and stating that Russia won’t stay in Syria for more than 6 more months.

There have been differing reports over the scale of the damage. Given its history of prevarication, the Russian Ministry of Defense has hardly built up a reservoir of trust, and observers have noted suspicious discrepancies in Russian TV reporting “from the ground” in Khmeimim several months ago, and today.

On the other hand, Cassad expresses severe skepticism that Alawite extremists could be behind it, and I would tend to agree with this. As I myself have reported, opinion polls have long indicated strong support for Assad in Tartus and coastal Latakia, and it seems unlikely to have changed, especially now when Assad seems to be winning.

It is also worth noting that there are powerful forces who actively want to discredit Putin in Syria. This of course applies first and foremost to the Russian non-systemic opposition: In his first video after the New Year, Alexey Navalny spends 12 minutes talking of “meaningless sacrifices” and “why are we in Syria anyway?”

Even so, there are a couple of things to be very concerned about:

1. How are “moderate rebels” are able to direct salvo after salvo of drone attacks against Khmeimim from the heart of regime territory?

This would be just one more sad but increasingly self-evident data point on the lack of any meaningful improvement in Syrian military capability since Russia entered the fray.

crappy-drone2. Warning, entering conspiracy mode.

There’s a distinct “plucky rebels” vs. “evil empire” vibe about this whole affair, up to and including the low-resolution images of the DIY contraptions that apparently constitute these all-powerful drones (see right) that we are to believe have disabled – at least temporarily – up to a third of Russian air power in Syria over the past week.

How are they getting through? The radius of action of home made drones is modest. Surely simple EW countermeasures should be sufficient for them? Besides, frag grenades – such as the ones mounted on the drone that the Syrians claim to have shot down on Dec 2 – will do nothing against a Su-24′s skin. You need serious high explosives to do the sort of damage displayed in Saponkov’s photograph. Frankly, I have a hard time buying that this is the sort of thing that can be manufactured, smuggled in, and organized by deep cover rebel operatives.

However, there are forces in the region who are credibly capable of such operations.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Drones, Military, Russia, Syrian Civil War 
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  1. US special forces? Or the Israelis?

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  2. while others speculated that the ammo base was blown up by accident.

    Considering that Kommersant was wrong about the “destroyed” aircrafts, the destruction of the ammo base seems to be speculation as well.

    How are “moderate rebels” are able to direct salvo after salvo of drone attacks against Khmeimim from the heart of regime territory?

    Technically, they are still in Latakia.

    This would be just one more sad but increasingly self-evident data point on the lack of any meaningful improvement in Syrian military capability since Russia entered the fray.

    Only if you are not paying attention at all. Greater Idlib insurgents seem to lose the eastern third of their region and they are supposed to be the the strongest insurgents left.

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  3. Here they also only say that “militants” got some foreign technology.

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  4. I’ve heard an interesting theory from my Russian friends that this event is self-inflicted.
    New Year Eve, people are celebrating. There is a tradition in RuAF of siphoning alcohol from the aircraft system.

    Things may go wrong, and if they do, there has to be a plausible explanation for the higher-ups, in this case, a cover-up. According to some of the publications, a weapons depot blew up at the base.

    This can explain the damage to the aircrafts.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin

    New Year Eve, people are celebrating.
     
    This was one of the initial theories, but I think it was pretty conclusively disproven due to subsequent documented evidence of massive drone attacks.

    There is a tradition in RuAF of siphoning alcohol from the aircraft system.
     
    In the 1990s and early 2000s, sure. Today, and in a warzone of all places - erm, no. Today's RuAF are well-paid, well-trained professionals.

    This can explain the damage to the aircrafts.
     
    The photo we have of the damaged Su-24 looks far too precise/local to have come as a result of an ammo depot explosion.
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  5. @siberiancat
    I've heard an interesting theory from my Russian friends that this event is self-inflicted.
    New Year Eve, people are celebrating. There is a tradition in RuAF of siphoning alcohol from the aircraft system.

    Things may go wrong, and if they do, there has to be a plausible explanation for the higher-ups, in this case, a cover-up. According to some of the publications, a weapons depot blew up at the base.

    This can explain the damage to the aircrafts.

    New Year Eve, people are celebrating.

    This was one of the initial theories, but I think it was pretty conclusively disproven due to subsequent documented evidence of massive drone attacks.

    There is a tradition in RuAF of siphoning alcohol from the aircraft system.

    In the 1990s and early 2000s, sure. Today, and in a warzone of all places – erm, no. Today’s RuAF are well-paid, well-trained professionals.

    This can explain the damage to the aircrafts.

    The photo we have of the damaged Su-24 looks far too precise/local to have come as a result of an ammo depot explosion.

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  6. frag grenades – such as the ones mounted on the drone that the Syrians claim to have shot down on Dec 2 – will do nothing against a Su-24′s skin.

    What? No, not at all. Even against a Su-25, which is actually armoured, shrapnel is going to leave visible traces. Armour only protects the most vital equipment, engines, crew compartment – the rest is just getting punctured while leaving the aircraft airworthy.
    See, for instance, holes left by flying shrapnel here:

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  7. Incidentally, it is curious to note that Dec 31 also saw the crash in Hama of a Mi-24 helicopter as a result of a bad landing due to technical problems, as a result of which its two pilots died. Shoddy repairs?

    This is particularly curious timing, because casualties among Russian troops in Syria are rare. Prior to Dec 31, the last fatal incident was on Oct 10. Yet supposedly there were two fatal incidents on the same date, one hostile and one accidental, and each with the same number of casualties? That’s quite a coincidence. Was the helicopter crash an invention, initially intended as a cover story for the casualties at Khmeimim? If so, then why later acknowledge that two died at the base? Or, were there a number of New Years Eve attacks launched against Russian forces across the country, and the helicopter was actually brought down by hostile fire?

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    • Replies: @Mitleser
    Heli crash was an accident in friendly territory.
    You are overthinking it.
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  8. Free Alawite Movement? I thought the Alawites were monolithically pro-Assad. That’s the only way a 15% minority can be in charge. Plus they must know the Sunnis are looking to purge them.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    Well yes, exactly, which is why I'm reasonably sure it's mostly a CIA invention.
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  9. @Jon0815

    Incidentally, it is curious to note that Dec 31 also saw the crash in Hama of a Mi-24 helicopter as a result of a bad landing due to technical problems, as a result of which its two pilots died. Shoddy repairs?
     
    This is particularly curious timing, because casualties among Russian troops in Syria are rare. Prior to Dec 31, the last fatal incident was on Oct 10. Yet supposedly there were two fatal incidents on the same date, one hostile and one accidental, and each with the same number of casualties? That's quite a coincidence. Was the helicopter crash an invention, initially intended as a cover story for the casualties at Khmeimim? If so, then why later acknowledge that two died at the base? Or, were there a number of New Years Eve attacks launched against Russian forces across the country, and the helicopter was actually brought down by hostile fire?

    Heli crash was an accident in friendly territory.
    You are overthinking it.

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  10. @Wency
    Free Alawite Movement? I thought the Alawites were monolithically pro-Assad. That's the only way a 15% minority can be in charge. Plus they must know the Sunnis are looking to purge them.

    Well yes, exactly, which is why I’m reasonably sure it’s mostly a CIA invention.

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    • Agree: reiner Tor
    • Replies: @reiner Tor
    So basically it was the “Western partners”.
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  11. @Anatoly Karlin
    Well yes, exactly, which is why I'm reasonably sure it's mostly a CIA invention.

    So basically it was the “Western partners”.

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