Russian helicopter downed by the Islamic State near Palmyra, Syria

The Islamic State downed a Russian helicopter east of Palmyra, Syria yesterday. The Russian Defense Ministry initially denied losing any helicopter. But the Russians changed their story after the so-called caliphate released a video of the attack today. The video can be viewed above.

“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 Ministry of Defense’s statement reads, according to Russia Today. “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.”

The Russian statement continues: “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.”

Another Russian outlet, Interfax, cited a military “source” as saying that the chopper was shot down by an American-made TOW missile.

But the video released by Amaq News Agency, which is part of the Islamic State’s propaganda machine, does not appear to show a TOW strike. Instead, it looks like anti-aircraft fire hit the rear of the helicopter and led to the crash.

Backed by Russian airpower, Bashar al Assad’s military and its allies recaptured Palmyra from the Islamic State in late March. [See LWJ report, Syrian Army, allies retake Palmyra from the Islamic State.]

Since then, Amaq has repeatedly reported that the two sides have fought each other near Palmyra and elsewhere in the Homs province.

It is often difficult to verify claims about the fighting in Syria. In this instance, however, both sides now agree that the jihadists downed the Russian military chopper.

Before releasing the video earlier today, Amaq published “Breaking News” updates on the fighting near Palmyra.

“Russian attack helicopter downed east of the Palmyra silos,” the first Amaq update read yesterday. Shortly after, Amaq claimed that the Islamic State’s fighters had gained ground against fighters loyal to the Syrian regime. A second Amaq update read: “Islamic State forces take control of 3 checkpoints belonging to Syrian regime forces and Shiite militias east of the Palmyra silos.”

In March, Amaq claimed that five Russian soldiers were killed during fighting near Palmyra. Amaq posted photos and video to back up its report. One of the videos showed a slain Russian soldier’s corpse. [See Threat Matrix report, Islamic State claims killing Russian soldiers at Palmyra.]

In June, Amaq reported that three Russian soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) implanted along the Ithriya-Raqqa road, which connects the provinces of Hama and Raqqa. The road has been the site of multiple clashes between the jihadists and fighters loyal to Bashar al Assad’s government. Amaq posted photos allegedly taken from a dead soldier’s phone and a video of the charred vehicle they were purportedly driving when the IED exploded. It does not appear that the Islamic State posted any images of the soldiers’ corpses and a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry denied the report. [See LWJ report, Islamic State claims 3 Russian soldiers killed in Syria.]

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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1 Comment

  • Moose says:

    It’s only a matter of time before these guys get large quantities of MANPADS. I’m surprised it hasn’t already happened beyond the occasional one we see in pics or videos. Their backers in the Gulf will up the ante against the Russians. I wouldn’t be surprised if Turkey gets bit by this policy too.


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