Air Strikes by SyAAF and VKS, 4 April 2017
An ‘add-on’ to earlier operations: the AAS has decorated four of its combatants for downing a total of 2 MiGs and 2 helicopters in Idlib, Latakia and Hama. Sadly, they seem not to have released specific details on claims in question, and thus these remain unknown.
Russians ended their series of air strikes from late on 3 April (see my earlier report) with three take-offs shortly after midnight.
Then there was absolutely no activity between midnight and 06.38hrs, when the first of two Su-22s that attacked Khan Sheykhoun was launched from Shayrat Air Base, south of Homs. As meanwhile known, this deployed chemical weapons against the HTS-held town, killing at least 74 people (possibly as many as 86) and injuring more than 557. Initial reports cited 58 killed (including 11 children), and more than 300 wounded, but then the number of victims dramatically increased:
“On 4th April 2017, Khan Al Shekhoun was targeted with 4 rockets by two airstrikes from Sukhoi 22. The civil defense was at the impact site that was targeted with chemical gas. The civil defense were injured. More than 200 injured people were moved to medical clinics. we don’t know exactly the number of casualties but we believe it’s more than 50 or 60 casualties. The medical team took off cloths from injured people, wash their bodies with water and them getting them inside the medical points. The symptoms were, respiratory distress described as a tightness, yellow foam material coming out from their mouth, and also later on blood came out of the mouth as well.”
Means: methods of this chemical weapons attack were clearly identified, right from the start: two Su-22s. Nobody is flying Su-22s in Syria, but Assadists.
That it was a SyAAF Su-22, and that they deployed chemical weapons, was confirmed also by the Pentagon and the Turkish Health Ministry.
By 07.30hrs, over 100 wounded were delivered to the local field hospital (the same one targeted already on 25 March).
Note: Orient News was rather slow with clearly identifying the perpetrator of this air strike as the CO of Shayrat-based №677 Squadron, Colonel Yusuf Hasuri. His name was mentioned through private channels, nearly a day earlier, and then in the social media too. Plus, they illustrated that article with a photo actually showing a Yemen Air Force Su-17M-4K (one of four Yemen obtained from the Ukraine, back in the 2000s), photoshopped through addition of Syrian national markings. Namely, barely few hours after this attack, it became known that Hasuri flew this mission on order from the Ba’ath Party HQ in Damascus — as usual for most of such attacks (foremost those including deployment of chemical weapons). I.e. this appears to have been no ‘prompt decision’ by some ‘commander that went rogue’, but very much an operation launched ‘on order from above’.
This even more so because nearly three hours later the nearby SDC centre was targeted too: this time one flown by a Su-24 that launched from Tiyas AB at 09.04hrs — and while treating those hit by chemical weapons — clearly showing this was a well-orchestrated attack with intention of causing a maximum number of victims and then disturbing their treatment:
Some say that actual ‘targets’ of this attack was the top of the HTS, members of which were supposedly in Khan Sheykhoun at the time of the attack. Indeed, there are rumours that Jawlani (or somebody else of his ‘calibre’) was injured in this attack too.
It also seems that one of reasons for the high number of victims was that the two Su-22 sorties — launched at unusual time of the day (SyAAF is next to never flying between 24.00/00.00 and 08.00hrs in the morning) — were both missed by Sentry Syria: this didn’t report it, and thus failed to warn the people of incoming danger.
On the other hand, the SyAAF flying at that time of the day indicates a ‘special purpose’ of the mission in question. The last time they did so was, for example, in November 2016, when they attacked Turkish troops north of al-Bab.
The next wave of Russian bombardments was announced by appearance of an UAV over southern Idlib, around 10.00hrs. This included 10 take-offs from Hmemmem, some of which targeted Darat Azza and Ma’arat an-Nauman.
Subsequently, the activity greatly diminished — which is rather surprising, considering the IRGC and Hezbollah opened a major offensive on Halfaya, a day earlier (3 April). Perhaps the operation in question ended in another, meanwhile typical, failure — as indicated by numerous reports about IRGC’s losses.
It almost appears the SyAAF expected something like ‘immediate reaction’ — from the USA?
Assadists returned to flying more intensive air strikes only during the afternoon. A SyAAF Mi-8 launched from Hama at 12.44, followed by Su-22 from Tiyas at 13.12, and Su-24 from the same base at 13.23. The Russians bombed Atarib at 13.40, and Jishr ash-Shughour at 14.09, but overall, it seems they’ve got a day off on 4 April. Another helicopter launched from Hama at 14.43, and a Su-22 from Tiyas at 14.43. Also, a single Su-22 launched from Shayrat at 14.48; two Su-22s (probably from Dmeyr) bombed the Sarqib area around 15.05–15.10hrs, a Su-24 launched from Tiyas at 15.10, a Su-22 from Shayrat at 15.19, and two helicopters from Hama at 15.26 and 15.47. One more Su-22 took off from Tiyas at 15.49, three helicopters were reported from southern Idlib around 16.00–16.20hrs, and a MiG-21 launched from Hama at 16.24. At 16.36, a L-39 and a helicopter launched from Hama, while a Su-22 launched from Tiyas at 14.38. These three, plus a L-39 that launched from Hama at 16.39, and a Su-22 from Shayrat that launched at 16.39, flew air strikes against Latamina.
More Assadist air strikes were launched in form of a single L-39 from Hama at 17.28, MiG-21 and a helicopter from Hama at 17.29. These also flew air strikes against targets in Kfar Zita salient, and were ‘reinforced’ by two pairs of Russian Su-25s, around 17.35hrs. Shayrat launched another Su-22 at 17.47, a MiG-23 at 18.06, a Su-22 at 18.21 (this bombed Halfaya), while the Russians bombed Jishr ash-Shughour and Kfar Nabl around 16.50hrs.
The evening was foremost characterised by sporadic air strikes flown by L-39s from hama (for example at 20.05, 20.48 and 21.06), and from Shayrat (20.07), or by Su-24s from Tiyas (21.03). The Russians ended the day by launching 4–5 air strikes and one recce aircraft from Hmemmem AB after 23.00hrs.
The Russians were obviously in need of some rest and maintenance after all the activity of the two last weeks. Assadists did fly, but surprisingly little; probably in preparation for operations on the next day.
The following video was released on 5 April, but apparently taken a day earlier, and it confirms that the ‘unknown reconnaissance aircraft’ airborne over Idlib Province during the early evening of 4 April, is a Russian Ilyushin Il-20M (which is foremost a SIGINT-gatherer, i.e. an aircraft equipped to listen on enemy radio and cell-phone communications):