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Published on 03 Apr 2014 | over 2 years ago

Syria - Syrian Civil War 2014

Syrian military forces have been using new tool in their long-running war against rebels and other Islamist forces who want to oust President Bashar Al-Assad from power.

They are known as barrel bombs — makeshift, shrapnel-packed explosive devices that Syrian forces have been dropping on rebel-held neighborhoods from helicopters. Residents have another name for them: "barrels of death."

"Essentially, they're just an old oil barrel packed with explosives, shrapnel and maybe some kind of incendiary device," said Aryn Baker, Middle East bureau chief with Time. "They are literally pushed out of the helicopter and when they land — they detonate on impact and explode. [They] take down whatever is in their path."

Baker said Syrian forces started using the weapons in 2012. But it has really been since 2014 or so that has brought a significant uptick in reports of their use.

The term is bit of a misnomer, but it arose when these weapons were first used in mid-2012, and it has stuck. They are containers old oil drums, barrels, storage tanks, welded metal cylinders that have been packed with hundreds of kilograms (pounds) of explosives, fuel and scrap metal, such as ball bearings, nails, saw blades or bits of rebar.

The Syrian government has not publicly addressed its reliance on barrel bombs. Some observers have suggested that their increasing use indicates Assad's air force is running low on traditional ordnance. But the Syrian military can still count on a steady supply of standard munitions from its allies, Russia and Iran, which would undercut that theory.

The bomb are highly effective and the bombs have had a devastating effect which has slowed down the progress for the rebels to advance. Rebel activists have called on the international community to impose a no-fly zone which failed due to Russia being a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council and voted to not allow such a thing to happen.

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