Early this afternoon, reports began coming in of a fighter jet being shot down in northern Syria. Following the release of images and video footage, it could be verified that a Syrian Air Force Su-22 jet had been shot down in southern Aleppo Province near the contested town of Al-Eis. The downing of this jet was also confirmed by Syrian state media.
So far it is unclear which rebel group shot down the aircraft, however at least one of the pilots survived the incident and parachuted to the ground. There he was subsequently captured by fighters loyal to Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.
This is the second shootdown of a Syrian Air Force jet in a month, and like last time, Syrian state media has claimed that the jet was shot down by a MANPADS (man-portable air defence system). So far there is no direct evidence showing that this is what occurred, however the footage of the jet crashing to the ground was consistent with a hit from this kind of weapon, and the altitude from which it fell seems to exclude damage from less-advanced anti-aircraft artillery.
Adding more weight to the idea that the aircraft was shot down by a MANPADS, images were taken several days ago in northern Syria of rebel fighters - from a new US-backed group of the Free Syrian Army called ‘Division 31’ - carrying what appeared to be functional MANPADS. This being said, the area in which the most recent aircraft was shot down appears to be completely controlled by Islamist rebel factions like Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, which would mean that an FSA missile would be an unlikely candidate to have shot down the plane. Furthermore, an official Twitter account of Ahrar al-Sham claimed that it had shot down the aircraft, however it did not state what weapons it used.
While the situation is far from clear, the evidence suggests that an external actor has begun supplying some Syrian rebels with advanced anti-aircraft weapons. While some such missiles (such as the Chinese FN-6) had been used earlier in the conflict, the close time gap between the two most recent shoot-downs leads to the conclusion of new supplies. The question is, who among the likely culprits (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, USA) is supplying these missiles, and who is receiving them: the FSA, or Ahrar al-Sham too?
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