Syria Deeply interviews Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch: You’ve tracked the use of barrel bombs, and prior to that the use of missiles on civilian areas. What’s the state of play now?
Roth: The barrel bombs are continuing and indeed they are the principal reason why civilians are dying in Syria today. Everybody is focused on ISIS. ISIS is terrible, civilians are suffering under ISIS, but if you stand back and say, what is the principal tool being used to slaughter civilians? It’s the barrel bomb. Initially, governments don’t really want to talk about this, because they are so focused on ISIS and don’t want to do anything that would undermine the Assad government’s ability to hang on and theoretically fight back against ISIS. People don’t seem to recognize that the barrel bomb is not a military weapon. It is so imprecise that the Syrian air force doesn’t dare drop it near the front line for fear of hitting its own troops.
Barrel bombs, for those who don’t know, are typically an oil drum or some large canister filled with explosives and metal fragments that serve as shrapnel. It is dumped from a helicopter hovering at a very high altitude to avoid anti-aircraft fire. From that altitude, it can’t be aimed with any precision whatsoever – it can simply be dumped into a neighborhood, and it is neighborhoods that barrel bombs are dumped on because of the need to stay away from the front line. If you ask what is enabling the pro-regime forces to hold on, it’s now the barrel bomb.
It is a terror and an anti-civilian tool. Part of Assad’s strategy is to make life as miserable as possible for the civilians living in opposition-held areas. It’s designed to kill many and terrify the rest so they will flee and gradually depopulate the area, to make it harder for the rebels to hang on.
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