A Russian transport helicopter was shot down in Syria on Monday. All five people onboard were killed. This is deadliest single incident for the Russian military since its involvement in Syria’s civil war.

The Russain Air Force suffered a major blow on Monday when an Mi-8 “transport” helicopter was shot down. All five passengers onboard were killed. It was the deadliest incident for Russian since their involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Russia said the Mi-8 helicopter was shot down in Idlib province. Officials stated it had been on a humanitarian mission delivering goods to the city of Aleppo.  It was returning to the Russian air base on Syria’s coast.

“Those who were aboard the helicopter, according to information from the Defense Ministry, have died heroically because they were attempting to steer the machine to minimize the casualties on the ground,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state-run Sputnik news agency.

However, many analysts believe after seeing crash video that the Mi-8 was not just a transport helicopter on a humanitarian mission.

In one photo, a rocket pod can be seen next to the wreckage. The Mi-8 appears to have been fitted with two B-8V20A rocket pods, each capable of carrying 20 80 mm S-8 rockets. In one video, people standing nearby are seen taking cellphone photos and shouting “Allahu Akbar,” or God is great in Arabic.

Mi-8 Wreckage, Via Twitter @Charles_Lister
Mi-8 Wreckage, Via Twitter @Charles_Lister

Christopher Harmer, a military analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War, told The Daily Beast, “To a far greater extent than the United States, Russian transport helicopters are designed for dual use in an attack role. The Mi-8 was originally designed as medium-lift utility transport but the Russians use it extensively as an attack helicopter. This particular model may have been selected so that they could portray the mission as humanitarian in nature. But the overwhelming majority of Russian rotary-wing operations in Syria are attack missions.”

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It would be almost pure suicide to take off in a war zone without a full complement of weapons or some type of an escort. The likelihood that the Russian Mi-8 was simply on a “humanitarian” mission seems extremely low, particularly when the flight path was over rebel controlled territory. This latest incident is another fatal blow in a string of Russian mishaps during their Syrian campaign.

In July, two Russian airmen were killed in the central Homs province when their Mi-25 helicopter was shot down by what the Defense Ministry said were Islamic State fighters.

An Mi-28N helicopter gunship crashed near Homs in April, killing both crew members. The Russian military said there was no evidence it came under fire.

Mi-8 Helicopter, Source: CNN
Mi-8 Helicopter, Source: CNN

A Russian warplane was shot down by a Turkey along the Syrian border in November. One of the two pilots was shot and killed from the ground after ejecting.

Putin’s air campaign is seen by many in the West as an opportunity to prop up the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. However, continued attacks on his aircraft by rebels are making it more difficult.

You can read the full Military Times article here and the CNN article here.

Top photo source: CNN