January 19, 2014
The past month has witnessed a dramatic escalation in the Syrian government’s use of “barrel bombs,” makeshift incendiaries assembled by packing an oil drum or similar container with explosives and shrapnel. Regime forces employed this weapon to devastating effect last month in Aleppo, killing over 500 people—most of them civilians and many of them children—in a two-week period, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The government has more recently deployed barrel bombs in the Damascus suburb of Daraya and parts of Idlib province, according to the Syrian Media Center. The United Nations Security Council voted in December on a resolution condemning the use of barrel bombs and Scud missiles in civilian areas, but Russia vetoed the measure.
A wide radius of destruction after a barrel bomb fell on the al-Mayesr neighborhood of Aleppo Sunday. Photo Courtesy of Aleppo Media Center.
Brigadier General Manaa' Rahal is the FSA’s military leader in the northwestern governorate of Idlib. He defected from the Syrian army in August 2011, having previously served in Idlib’s al-Mastomeh camp and in northern Aleppo. He spoke with Syria Direct’s Abdulrahman al-Masri to discuss his belief that the government is using barrel bombs to pressure rebel groups into accepting its military dominance before the start of the long awaited Geneva II peace talks.
Q: Over the past week we’ve seen an escalating campaign of barrel bombing around Syria. Why is the regime doing this just before Geneva?
To prove that it is still there; to force Geneva participants to accept the facts on the ground and to accept the regime’s claims that it is fighting terrorism.
Q: Based on your military experience, what is the barrel bomb?
A: The regime has anti-aircraft missiles, air-to-surface missiles and various other types of bombs. The regime developed the barrel bombs with Russian assistance to achieve greater destruction. They put chunks of iron, screws, scissors and screwdrivers in a container, then they add explosive materials like TNT, which increases the radius of the destruction. The regime develops this kind of weapon to destroy as many buildings as possible, and to kill more people.
Q: Does the international law allow manufacturing these kinds of weapons?
Weapons production is subject to certain conditions and restrictions, and this weapon is not permitted. As we are seeing, the international community is allowing Assad to use it all over Syria, and even beyond Syria.
Q: You mentioned that barrel bombs have a larger destructive radius—how many meters can the blast from a barrel bomb reach?
If the barrel bomb falls on an open area, it will destroy everything within a one kilometer radius. However, the regime is dropping barrel bombs on buildings; they can penetrate downward through five or six floors.
Q: How accurate are barrel bombs in hitting their targets?
If the pilot is comfortable, he can hit his target accurately. But this is an open war, and the FSA has access to some weapons that can confront these planes, and pilots are dropping barrel bombs indiscriminately.