Russia’s Aerospace Forces, which have been helping Syrian government forces fight jihadist militants since September 2015, have gained experience in dealing with so-called “tunnel warfare”, “jihad-mobiles”, and atrocities by ISIS terrorists in Syria.
These experiences, and how they distinguish the war in Syria from other conflicts, have been recounted by a Russian pilot, Mikhail, who has participated in the operation. The commander of a squadron based in Russia’s Southern Military District, Mikhail is one of the pilots who fought in Syria and is also a veteran of the anti-terrorist operation in Chechnya.
The tasks of pilots in both cases were similar – to hit armored vehicles and militants from above – but the conditions were very different, which makes Mikhail’s comparative reflections, presented below, an interesting case study.
While in Chechnya there are mountains, Syria has deserts, making it difficult to detect enemy installations “hidden in the sands, under the underlying surface,” explained Mikhail.
The pilot explained in detail how terrorists use the Syrian landscape to camouflage themselves: “they wear [desert] camouflage and paint sand-colored vehicles, so detecting them is sometimes only possible with coordinates.”
Another detail that distinguishes Syrian terrorists significantly is lack of judgment.
“They act as if they were under the influence of some substances,” says the pilot, stressing that Syrian terrorists are not distracted by anything: “even if someone dies, they pass and keep walking.”
Without fear and pity, Syrian terrorists become very dangerous but at the same time vulnerable opponents, said Mikhail, who added that their “criminal attitudes” demonstrate that they have a “disturbed mind.”
One of the main methods of combat used by terrorists in Syria is tunnel warfare.
“They […] dig tunnels with many exits that allow them to get close [to the Syrian troops] and jump from there to attack,” the pilot said.
To deal with tunnels, groups of aircraft are formed in which bombers drop bombs at cement bunkers and then assault planes swoop in to complete the attack.
Terrorists in Syria have also been noted to frequently deploy so-called jihad-mobiles – armored vehicles full of explosives – to kill as many people as possible.
“There is no time to fear”
While the militants’ armored vehicles do not pose much of a threat to pilots, the terrorists’ anti-aircraft guns are quite dangerous, forcing aviation to maneuver and make quick decisions.
“There is no time to fear, I need to see where the enemy is, to hear the comrade who is flying with me, and advise as to where the attack is coming from,” Mikhail said.
The bombers are supported by Russian fighters that also accompany the Syrian aviation.
These remarks by Mikhail figure among a growing number of anecdotes being gathered which offer a glimpse into Russia’s experience of warfare in Syria.