Russian Air Force Strikes Rebel Headquarters in Idlib, Syria

The Russian Air Force has carried out at least two airstrikes against a headquarters for Faylaq ash-Sham in the town of Duwaylah, Idlib governorate. The strikes, now rare, are now one of the largest mass-casualty events against a militant group in years.

Shot from a Russian aircraft of Faylaq ash-Sham in formation (Via @200_zoka)

The airstrikes appear to have occurred while the militants were on the parade ground, potentially while they were filming an announcement or promotional video. Towards the end of the month is when many training courses complete, so it may have even been a graduation for fighters. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights states that a batch of fighters was destined to graduate within a few days, so it is likely that these were all prospective fighters.

Airstrike directly on the formation. (Via @200_zoka)

The initial strike struck the formation directly, meaning that the tightly-packed men likely suffered instant death or gruesome injury. The total casualties are uncertain and will likely be unknown for some time, because of the nature and effect of the strike, but as it stands at least 160 men have been killed or wounded, with at least 70 of those men confirmed dead, though some state the dead number has high as 100.

Location of the headquarters is 36.096038°, 36.460616°. Geolocated by @Obs_IL

A second strike was also reported, although it is unknown what was targeted, it is easily assumed to be the headquarters building itself, likely attempting to target leadership who may have been inside while the initial strikes happened.

The attack on Faylaq ash-Sham is very important and signifies growing dissatisfaction with Turkey by Russia. This possibly stems from the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, but it also could be frustration over lack of action to remove extremists from areas south of the M4 highway which has annoyed Russia. Faylaq ash-Sham is known as one of Turkey’s most loyal groups in Syria, and receives both weapons, vehicles, and payment from Turkey itself. A strike on them is a direct message to Turkey, and while the various militant factions in Idlib will respond heavily to this attack, this is one of their deadliest attacks in years.