Barrel bombs, not ISIS, are the greatest threat to Syrians

Kenneth Roth writes: As the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, commits horrendous videotaped executions, it might seem to pose the greatest threat to Syrian civilians. In fact, that ignoble distinction belongs to the barrel bombs being dropped by the military of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. The Islamic State has distracted us from this deadly reality.

Barrel bombs are improvised weapons: oil drums or similar canisters filled with explosives and metal fragments. They are dropped without guidance from helicopters hovering just above antiaircraft range, typically hitting the ground with huge explosions and the widespread diffusion of deadly shrapnel. They pulverize neighborhoods, destroy entire buildings and leave broad strips of death and destruction.

The Syrian military has dropped barrel bombs, sometimes dozens in one day, on opposition-held neighborhoods in Aleppo, Idlib, Dara’a and other cities and towns. They have pulverized markets, schools, hospitals and countless residences. Syrians have described to me the sheer terror of waiting the 30 seconds or so for the barrel bomb to tumble to earth from a helicopter hovering overhead, not knowing until near the very end where its deadly point of impact will be. [Continue reading…]

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9 thoughts on “Barrel bombs, not ISIS, are the greatest threat to Syrians

  1. Desmond Travers

    Kenneth Roth’s article is v interesting and I wish to add comment by way of affirmation of what he has said. When the weather is poor and heli’s or other aircraft are unable to fly to deliver these bombs, there is a ground-launched version which is put into use. Indeed HRW’s Twitter photo shows the tail with fin stabilisers descending ground of one such device. I should also mention that in addition to population moves towards the front lines, there are moves away from hospitals as they have been targeted in particular by these barrel bombs. In some respects the ground launched versions are more threatening in that they are often larger and carry a bigger payload, thereby increasing the destruction of the target area.

  2. Kareem Najjar

    The article says they are dropped without guidance, but even the Aljazeera footage from the pilots shows them using maps to pinpoint where the bombs are being dropped.

    What Roth seems to insinuate is that the bombs are either being used indiscriminately or deliberately targeting civilians.

    But the SAR are fighting rebels, so it would make sense that they’re aiming at rebel targets.

    And he fails to make a distinction between ‘barrel bombs’ and regular bombs – they’re both designed to do damage. That’s the point.

    Not surprised to see this kind of bias in the NYT.

  3. Paul Woodward

    Kareem – watch this video of a barrel bomb being dropped:

    Are you going to tell me that if the helicopter crew checked their map and know the name of the city below, that this amounts to “guidance”?

    If you’re willing to excuse Assad for this kind of indiscriminate violence, you must regard the Israelis as virtual saints when they fire missiles with vastly more precision at neighborhoods in Gaza.

  4. Kareem Najjar

    Who’s excusing Assad? I’m looking at the facts.

    Yes the mechanics are crude, but it would be a waste of the SAR’s depleted artillery not to be at least aiming at rebel targets. It’s still a stretch to say they’re deliberately targeting civilians.

    Not a stretch to say the regime is fighting for its survival at (almost) all costs. But let’s be reasonable. I don’t deny the SAR’s penchant for cruelty, but I don’t think they’re idiots either.

    For what it’s worth, here’s the video I was referring to’s-indiscriminate-use-barrel-bombs-697596

  5. Paul Woodward

    I provided a video which graphically demonstrates the indiscriminate nature of the use of barrel bombs and now you have provided equally graphic evidence, and yet you still doubt that these bombs are deliberately targeting civilians.

    It would seem that you don’t understand the difference between a civilian and a military target.

  6. Kareem najjar

    I’m not sure I follow the hostility. This was supposed to be a discussion.
    I’m assuming you don’t have a military background, so perhaps you can’t tell that they’re aiming their bombs according to co-ordinates on their screens.
    I used to enjoy this website for its strength in digging out cogent analyses.
    Now it seems you’re parroting the western media in vilifying Assad as this ‘super monster’ when he’s merely just another tinpot dictator.

  7. Paul Woodward

    Making reference to maps and mapping coordinates does not provide a barrel bomb with a guidance system. These are free-fall, unguided bombs of the crudest kind.

  8. Kareem najjar

    So they’re no different than regular ‘dumb bombs’.
    And yet they’re treated like the new face of terror.
    Meanwhile next door one nation is using deliberate precision to target civilians and succeeding.
    In syria’s case, I feel you have to ask why would the Assad regime want to kill his own people? Why would the military want to do so?
    They have a limited amount of ordinance and would want to use it to defeat the enemy. They’ve survived this far not by dumb luck.
    This is an important point, yet overlooked because the western media has demonized Assad to the point that everything is his fault.

  9. Paul Woodward

    On the ground, the Assad regime now controls just 17% of Syria, so it’s debatable what “survived this far” means.

    As for drawing a comparison with Israel’s barbarism, that’s very appropriate. But if Israel was dropping barrel bombs on Gaza, I doubt very much that you would be rationalizing their behavior by suggesting that they are doing what they need to do, to defeat their enemy.

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