Syria’s Deadly ‘Barrel Bombs': Assad Regime Uses Devastating, Makeshift Weapon

The regime is now turning to homemade "barrel bombs" dropped from the sky

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Bassam Khabieh / Reuters

Men help a wounded boy who survived what activists say was a barrel-bomb drop by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus on Jan. 7, 2014

As the Syrian opposition tears itself apart in the country’s rebel-dominated north, the regime of President Bashar Assad is wasting no time pushing for advantage near the capital. On Sunday, the rebel-dominated suburb of Daraya, southwest of Damascus, sustained a prolonged assault with what appeared to be the standard missile and mortar attacks used throughout the war. But at least one corner of Daraya was hit by a more unorthodox weapon that is becoming more common by the day: the so-called barrel bomb. Essentially an improvised bomb made of explosives stuffed into an oil barrel or similar receptacle and pushed out of a helicopter, the weapon’s seemingly Looney Tunes origins conceal one of the most devastating and indiscriminate weapons in Assad’s arsenal. Packed with shrapnel and extra incendiaries like oil, and usually triggered on impact, the large payload all but guarantees widespread destruction.

In an age in which a modern army’s large-scale weapons are generally expensive and precisely targeted missiles are designed to, in theory, avoid civilian casualties, the government’s use of barrel bombs is a throwback to another era, when an indiscriminately dropped bomb’s destructive power was just as valuable as the fear it elicited in a helpless population. Footage coming out of Daraya, first reported by Syrian-war-weapons expert Eliot Higgins, who blogs and tweets under the name Brown Moses, telegraphs that fear, as shaky mobile-phone videos track a helicopter’s passage across the sky over Daraya, then follow the descent of a free-falling projectile to its ultimate detonation. At least one amateur cameraman is wounded in the subsequent blast, interrupting his narration of events with a prayer to God and an involuntary, “Argh, my leg!”

In this video, posted by the opposition Daraya Revolution media site, the narrator gives the date and location while filming a helicopter dropping an item, which he describes as a “barrel bomb” over the Daraya skyline. It later detonates. It is impossible to independently verify the footage.

The Daraya drop and detonation filmed from another angle and posted by the same opposition organization.

First deployed against the opposition-dominated city of Homs in August 2012, barrel bombs didn’t really gain prominence until December of last year, when scores of the improvised devises were dropped on the city of Aleppo, killing more than 500. Though an estimated 46 rebels were killed in the bombardment, most of those hit were civilians, in civilian areas, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group with reporters on the ground and links to the opposition.

The deployment in civilian areas of barrel bombs, which cannot be targeted, could be considered a war crime, according to Human Rights Watch, which released a report about their use in Aleppo. The Syrian government routinely denies that it uses such weapons, but U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland confirmed their deployment in December, telling journalists in a discussion about the regime’s use of Scud missiles that “we’re seeing use of another egregious weapon. It’s kind of a barrel bomb, which is an incendiary bomb that contains flammable materials.”

Barrel bombs may be an inexpensive alternative to more sophisticated missiles, but few take their use as a sign of the regime’s diminishing conventional arsenal. Instead, it’s interpreted as an indication of the government’s determination to win, whatever the cost.

With reporting by Hania Mourtada / Beirut

27 comments
VellachSamie
VellachSamie

The article is very biased and misleading. It says Syrian Government routinely deny using such barrel bombs. Implying a pattern of bad behaviour by Syrian Government. Then says "but Nuland have confirmed the use of such weapons by Syrian Government" again implying Nuland is some kind of authority on confirming such things and that she have access to any evidence. No such evidence have been put forth till now. but in fact so many accusations have been proven to be backed by false and doctored evidence many times before.

Journalism is in crisis in the media today

Tiger-Pi
Tiger-Pi

Cannot both the US and Russia with the EU  stop the  horrible bloodshed in Syria by putting  pressure on countries that support the Free Syrian forces ( like the Saudis) and at the same time clamp down on the Assad regime asking it to stop the fighting , threatening  to putting their  leaders on trial for genocide and war crimes? Both the adversaries have now been called for talks but the Syrian Free Army has yet to respond favorably to  international pressure. The UN  not only lacks teeth but does not want to bite!  What is the difference between a 'barrel bomb' as is it not a crude napalm bomb ? 

bentothetenthpower
bentothetenthpower

Oh, right, when the US uses depleted Uranium shells, or hellfire missiles, it's all good, but Syria uses any weapon but a soggy noodle and the world frowns and clucks in disapproval.


All weapons are evil. Every weapon is an atrocity. Even a simple rifle, or club. 

lancasterpausa
lancasterpausa

Let's just stay out of this.  If the Muslim countries think this is fine and don't help, why should we?  America has enough in country problems.  Lets secure our Mexican border, stop the Gang slayings and feed our poor.  No more Bush wars where we don't belong and are not wanted. 

HateToSayItbut
HateToSayItbut

War is vile, heartless and cruel. So why should one not strive to be the most vile, most heartless and most cruel in order to stop it? This is the truth of war and as long as war exists this will exist. (BTW that was just a paraphrase of a quote from a different Civil War.)

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

«Men help a wounded boy who survived what activists say was a ...»

I think it should be translated as "there is no evidence that this photo was taken in Syria" or" "journalists "Time" no responsibility in case, if this photoa fake"

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Thierry Meyssan. France
Whither the Syrian "revolutionaries" ?

On the eve of the Geneva 2 Conference, the American organisers no longer have any puppets to play the role of Syrian revolutionaries. The sudden disappearance of the Free Syrian Army shows those who believed in it that it was a fiction. There has never been a popular revolution in Syria; just foreign aggression staged by mercenaries and billions of dollars. http://www.voltairenet.org/article181534.html

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Russia's Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, stressed that all countries having influence on the Syrian opposition should convince them not to impede the delivery of humanitarian aid to the needed people.
“A very intense but knotty work on this issue is underway because the problem is the opposition sometimes doesn’t give consent to the passage of humanitarian convoys while the government gives the consent to the deliveries,” Russia Today website quoted Churkin as saying Tuesday.
He added “it is important for the countries having influence on the opposition to reach agreement with the opposition so that it wouldn’t hinder the deliveries of aid.”
He reiterated that the issue of ensuring humanitarian aid in Syria is a matter of permanent concern of the UN Security Council as it was discussed during its meetings in which Assistant of the UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs Valerie Amos took part. 

http://sana.sy/eng/21/2014/01/14/522172.htm


Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Judging by the video such a "barrel" thrown from the helicopter vertically cannot be described as not selective. vertically bomb dropped from a helicopter can be considered a high precision, since the pilot knows for sure where it will fall. The procedure for such action. In the places of concentration of militants declared a counterterrorist operation. Overlap all the possible derogations. The next feature of the corridors for the release of civilians, if they still remain. As a rule, they try to leave the combat areas, and returned only after the sweeps. Further there is a mopping-up areas from terrorists. Periodically terrorists force keep civilians in the occupied regions and even use them as a living shield. In such case, use other methods of neutralizing the militants, who are more connected with the risk to life solders of the Syrian Army. It is noteworthy that after,peacefulcitizens are returned only in those areas which are controlled by the Syrian army. This suggests that only in areas such people feel more secure and regularly receive humanitarian assistance.

joshuahanley30
joshuahanley30

just to let the reporting agency know the first video link has been removed


zeustiak
zeustiak

These barrel bombs are no different than the 2 thousand pound bombs the US used extensively prior to widespread smartbomb use.  You don't need to hit the enemy if your explosion is large enough to cover the margin of error.  


I would say the US didn't drop such bombs into crowded cities, but that wouldn't exactly be true.  


Hell, the "Carpet Bombing" that took place between WW2, Korea, and Vietnam alone puts these barrel bombs to shame.  


What happens if Assad crushes the insurgency by flattening all the rebel cities?  Would WW2 have been won if not for the insane carpet bombings performed by the Allies?  


War should be prevented if possible, but which is better, a 5/10/15 year insurgency or a bloody 4 year war with a victor at the end of it?  

PrabuddhaGhosh
PrabuddhaGhosh

Its OK for Al Qaeda to use car bombs and suicide bombers but not OK for the legitimate government to bomb those terrorists? If so how is USA justifying use of drone based missiles in various countries around the world. Sure the American bombs are more expensive and support more jobs in America but they still kill people and many times innocent people. This is a case of the Pot calling the kettle black. And if America really wanted to stop the war in Syria it could do it in a week by putting pressure on US allies Saudi, Jordan and Turkey to not arm and support the terrorists. But then these are our terrorists (like the IRA) so their terrorism is OK. Sick.

Olga
Olga

and this is not considered a WAR CRIME??? Indescriminately bombing of civilians; women and children???

mahadragon
mahadragon

"The Syrian government routinely denies that they use such weapons, but U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland confirmed their deployment in December." - If indeed the barrel bombs were dropped by a militia aligned with the Syrian Government, then wouldn't it be more accurate to say the bombs were dropped by a local militia and not the Syrian Government? There is a difference here. 


There are independent militias running around Syria, some are for the government, and some are against. Their goals are in line with whichever side they are on, but they have their own leader and kind of run things their own way. They don't always work hand in hand with whatever side they are on.


This is why it is very tricky to accuse the Syrian government of dropping barrel bombs because they could be telling the truth. It's possible the Syrian Government isn't dropping barrel bombs, but a local militia aligned with the Syrian Government is. The same argument goes for the use of the chemical weapons. It's possible it was carried out by one of the local militias in which case neither the Syrian Government, nor the Free Syrian Army can be directly accused of carrying out the attack.


vetramon
vetramon

The journalist explains that the barrel bombs were the weapon of choice of the terrorists and when this happened for this journalist it wasn't news and bad at all. But now that Assad is using it, is a sign of the government to win at all costs.

  Miss Aryn Baker, all wars are immoral, all of them, there is no excuse to appeal to the lowest animal instincts to try to suppress the views of your antagonists. Those who abet are as guilty as the ones doing the acts itself. Your country is as guilty as the combatants in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, etc, what is totally hypocritical in your part is that I have never read anything criticizing the USA about using CLUSTER BOMBS, NAPALM, DEFOLIATING BOMBS, DEPLETED URANIUM AMMO, etc, etc. or criticizen Israel using chemical weapons against the Palestinians. 

mrxexon
mrxexon

I have my doubts. As with the gas accusations, there is no evidence of WHO used what.


Lots of pokers in this fire, folks.


x

EjW
EjW

Didn't look to be triggered from impact looks like it detonated several hundred feet above ground

BobSmith8
BobSmith8

if what Assad is doing is a war crime then I say what Obama is doing with drones is a war crime. 

HateToSayItbut
HateToSayItbut

@OlgaBy it's very definition the answer would sadly be no Olga. A war crime would be the Targeting of civilians. As long as a government can say they were aiming at someone else they could not likely be convicted of war crimes. This becomes especially murky since the "bombs" they are using are not banned weapons since they are improvised.

jpcali
jpcali

@BobSmith8 Isn't' that about the same war crime as lying about mushroom clouds and yellow cake Bob ???

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

@BobSmith8 

shhh...careful what you say about our disaster-in-chief...his cronies are probably monitoring this

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

@HateToSayItbut@Sibir_Russia

You can inquire. Chernobyl is in the territory of another independent country.

In March 1979,  has happened to one of the largest accidents in the history of nuclear power. All this happened because of the violation of exploitation and repair procedures, technical failures and wrong actions of the staff. As a result of accident became really very heavy - active zone of the reactor is seriously corrupted, fuel melted down. However, in the environment almost got to radioactive substances. In a society of the United States, this event caused a great resonance, and the country started large anti-nuclear campaign. Three Mile Island -located in Pennsylvania