Downing of Russian Helicopter Highlights Islamic State Threat to Aircraft

TEL AVIV – Russia’s military says one of its helicopters was downed by the Islamic State in Syria, killing two of its airmen.

The incident highlights the continued threat to low-flying aircraft posed by IS.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense released the following statement:

“On July 8, Russian military pilot-instructors Evgeny Dolgin and Ryafagat Khabibulin,  were conducting a calibration flight on a Syrian Mi-25 (export version of the Mi-24) helicopter loaded with ammunition in the province of Homs.”

“The crew received a request from the Syrian command group to help defeat the advancing terrorists and fire for effect. The captain of the aircraft, Ryafagat Khabibulin, made the decision to attack.”

RT further reports:

The Ministry of Defense stated that due to the skillful actions of the crew the terrorists were thrown back and the attack had been thwarted.

However, their helicopter was shot down by terrorists as it was turning to head back to the base.

“Having spent their ammunition, while turning back to the base, the helicopter was shot down by terrorists from the ground and crashed in an area controlled by the Syrian government. The crew did not survive,” Russia’s defense ministry said, adding that both pilots will posthumously receive state awards for their actions.

It was not immediately confirmed which weapon was used by IS to down the aircraft.

Russia’s Interfax news agency cited a defense ministry source claiming the helicopter was brought down using an American TOW antitank missile system.

“According to reports, terrorists used the American TOW system to down the helicopter, which, having exhausted its ammunition, was on the course back to the base at an extremely low altitude,” the source was quoted as telling Interfax.

This is not the first time IS or Syrian rebels shot down military aircraft.

In April, the Syrian army said its plane was shot down by rebels with an antiaircraft missile and video footage of the falling aircraft seems to be consistent with this kind of an attack. One month earlier, Syria said one of its warplanes was shot down in western Syria.

It has been widely understood that Syrian rebels likely obtained and already deployed Man-Portable-Air-Defense-Systems, or MANPADS.

In April, it was revealed the CIA believes that Mideast rebels have already obtained MANPADS, and the agency fears the weaponry could be acquired by terrorist groups and utilized against civilian aircraft.

This significant detail was contained in the 13th paragraph of a larger Wall Street Journal article reporting on CIA plans to possibly arm moderate Syrian rebels with more advanced weaponry if the truce in Syria continues to deteriorate and full-scale fighting resumes.

The Journal reported:

To coalition partners including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the CIA has twinned assurances that the U.S. will allow the anti-Assad coalition to supply more weapons with warnings that they would be mistaken to go behind Washington’s back to provide weapons systems that Mr. Obama has decided so far not to introduce to the battlefield.

The agency’s principal concern focuses on man-portable air-defense systems, known as Manpads. The CIA believes that rebels have obtained a small number of Manpads through illicit channels. Fearing these systems could fall into terrorists’ hands for use against civilian aircraft, the spy agency’s goal now is to prevent more of them from slipping uncontrollably into the war zone, according to U.S. and intelligence officials in the region.

The article cited U.S. and other officials divulging that the CIA was preparing for a so-called Plan B to counter Russia and Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. The plan, the newspaper reported, calls for “vetted rebel units with weapons systems that would help them in directing attacks against Syrian regime aircraft and artillery positions.” That option was to be used only if the truce collapses and major fighting resumes.

In April, after the downing of two Syrian military aircraft, this reporter raised questions about how the Mideast rebels may have obtained MANPADs.

I asked:

Did NATO-member Turkey, already in hot water for brazenly shooting down a Russian warplane, pass antiaircraft missiles to rebels as part of Ankara’s obsessive bid to counter the Syria-Russia axis? Turkey, concerned by Syria’s recent gains against the Islamic State and other rebel forces, is known to be one of the main suppliers of more extremist elements among the anti-Assad rebels.

There is also the possibility that antiaircraft weapons were obtained by Syrian rebels from elements that looted Moammar Gadhafi’s reserves of of MANPADS. The largest terrorist looting of MANPADS took place immediately after the 2001 U.S.-NATO military campaign, strongly pushed by Hillary Clinton, that toppled Gadhafi’s regime in Libya.

NATO failed to immediately protect the reserves of MANPADS.

As I reported:

Gadhafi had hoarded Africa’s biggest-known reserve of MANPADS, with a stock said to number between 15,000 and 20,000. Many of the missiles were stolen by militias fighting in Libya, including those backed by the U.S. in their anti-Gadhafi efforts. There were reports of a Western effort to secure the MANPADS, including collecting some from rebels in Libya.

Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.


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