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Now that a regime transport helicopter has been repurposed to ‘drop 6 barrel bombs at once,’ is this the new normal?

On July 26, a Soviet-era Mi-8 transport helicopter dropped six […]

On July 26, a Soviet-era Mi-8 transport helicopter dropped six barrel bombs on a residential neighborhood in the Damascus suburb of Darayya.

The goal, says a rebel spokesman in Darayya, “is to inflict the greatest possible damage in one designated location.”

What is different about this attack is the number of barrel bombs the chopper was able to carry—six, instead of the previous maximum of four. That is because the Mi-8 is a transport helicopter usually used for moving soldiers and equipment.

“It’s an unconventional repurposing” of the Mi-8,” Ayham Abu Mohammed, a spokesman for the Darayya-based, FSA-affiliated rebel group Liwa Shuhada al-Islam, tells Syria Direct’s Abdulhadi Khalil. Liwa and Ajnad a-Sham currently hold the town.

It is unclear why the regime used the Mi-8 instead of the more advanced Mi-25 for the July 26 attack on Darayya, which has witnessed an estimated 7,000 barrel bombs since its encirclement in 2012.

 Aftermath of July 26 barrel bomb attack in Darayya. Photo courtesy of the Darayya Local Council.

Today, “90 percent of the city is in total ruin,” says Abu Mohammed.

Q: When did the regime first start dropping six barrel bombs at a time over Darayya?

In general, the regime first started using the Mi-8 helicopters around the country after [Jaish Fatah a-Sham] destroyed the Menagh Air Base in Aleppo [in August 2013]. Ever since, they’ve had limited helicopters, and they’ve been using this older, Soviet-era model despite its numerous faults and shortcomings.

July 26 was the first time that the regime used the Mi-8 to drop barrel bombs. It’s an unconventional repurposing, especially because the helicopter is primarily used as a transport vehicle, given its high flying altitude, its evasive capabilities and its ability to transport heavy weights. Granted, this aspect also means that it is able to carry many barrel bombs at a time.

 Mi-8 helicopter drops six barrel bombs on Darayya. Photo courtesy of the Darayya Local Council.

Q: Before the Mi-8 entered the fray, did the regime ever drop more than two barrel bombs at a single time?

Previously, the regime used more advanced, modern helicopters such as the Mi-25, which could carry up to four barrel bombs. However, this is certainly the first time that the regime has ever dropped six barrel bombs at once.

Q: Have the death tolls and the overall level of destruction increased since the Mi-8 began dropping six barrel bombs at a time over Darayya?

This certainly isn’t the first time that the regime has bombed this city. We’ve been living this reality for four years now. Though today they may be dropping more bombs at a single moment than ever before, there has been no increase in the number of victims, only by the grace of God.

Q: With the capability of dropping six barrel bombs on each run, what does that look like on the ground?

The helicopters will drop all six barrel bombs at once. Of course, their goal is to maximize destruction—to the city and its citizens—in one designated location.

Q: Is there any rhyme or reason as to when these bombing runs take place?

It’s impossible to predict when they’ll happen exactly, but we do know that the helicopters won’t fly in the afternoon. When the heat is intense, the temperature can affect the helicopters’ fuel supplies.

Q: Have Darayya residents taken new precautions in light of these more destructive bombing runs?

Six barrel bombs may be falling at a time, but this doesn’t change the precautions that we take. We’re no strangers to this situation. When a helicopter is spotted overhead, you go to the nearest basement or bunker, which are open to everyone around the clock.  

Q: Describe the destruction that four years of barrel bombs has caused on Darayya.

The scale of the destruction is enormous; 90 percent of the city is in total ruin. But, then again, the regime doesn’t care about the destruction that they cause. And they don’t care about the body count that they leave behind.

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