Evidence points to Russian airstrikes on TOW-operating FSA affiliate

AMMAN: Although Russia denied on Thursday targeting US-backed rebels in airstrikes this week, OpenSyria has geolocated a Russian airstrike to the north Hama headquarters of Tajammua al-Izza, a Free Syrian Army (FSA)-affiliate known to operate US-manufactured TOW anti-tank missiles.

First, Tajammua al-Izza uploaded a video to YouTube on Thursday of an alleged Russian airstrike, carried out by what appear to be Su-24 warplanes.

 

“That’s our headquarters getting hit by the Russians,” a Tajammua al-Izza spokesman, commenting on the above video, told OpenSyria on Thursday.

“It’s the first place you see getting bombed in the Russian defense ministry’s footage,” he said, referring to footage of Russian sorties inside Syria released by the Russian Ministry of Defense on Wednesday.

 

Moving to the ministry's footage, we find journalist and Bellingcat investigator Ruslan Leviev had previously geolocated the first target recorded in the video–which Tajammua al-Izza claims to be its Hama headquarters–to the town of al-Latamna, in the northern Hama countryside, at 35.307858, 36.620754.           

A comparison of the air raid footage against the uploaded video of the Tajammua al-Izza strike yields a close match.

Note clockwise (1) a structure on a hill to the northeast of the targeted bunkers; (2) a row of entry points into the hillside bunker, which casts a matching shadow; (3) a small brick structure, to the right of bunker; (4) a berm meters to the left of the bunker entry; and (5) matching positions for both white and black smoke clouds. Credit to @RuslanLeviev for the geo-location of Russian Ministry of Defense footage.

The first airstrike in the defense ministry’s video reportedly occurred at about 9:40 AM local time on September 30, within meters of 35.308442, 36.621570, which would in turn match the direction and approximate length of shadows predicted by sun position charts at that time and location.

Syrian state news agency SANA confirmed Russia’s strike against a “terrorist organization in Hama,” on Thursday, noting it had destroyed “its headquarters and ammunition stockpile.” And according to at least one pro-regime media report Thursday, the targeted “terrorist organization” was “Tajammua al-Izza” whose weapons cache “includes TOW missiles.”

Tajammua al-Izza is not the only allegedly US-backed target under Russian fire.

“Russian warplanes hit three US-backed brigades in Idlib and Hama provinces on Wednesday and Thursday–Tajammua al-Izza, Suqur al-Ghab and Suqur al-Jabal,” Ibrahim a-Shamali, a correspondent with the pro-opposition Umayya Media Center in the southern Idlib countryside, told OpenSyria on Thursday.

“All three are Free Syrian Army affiliates, and receive support from the Turkey-based Military Operations Center (or MOC, a US and allied support structure providing military aid to the Syrian rebels),” a-Shamali added.

Although Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told CNN on Thursday he could “absolutely confirm” that airstrikes struck rebels “armed and trained by the CIA,” US officials have yet to clarify which groups Russia struck Wednesday and Thursday.

OpenSyria could not immediately verify that Tajammua al-Izza indeed receives lethal aid and training from the CIA through MOC, although as a known TOW operator, it may well be an American-backed rebel brigade, now side-by-side the Islamic State and al-Qaeda on Moscow’s Syria hit list.

Joseph Adams

Joseph was a 2013-2014 Boren Fellow in Arabic based in Amman, Jordan and is the founder of Open Syria. He holds BA and MS degrees in political science from UCLA and MIT, and is an MA degree candidate in Arabic at Middlebury College.

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011.