According to reports emerging in Russian media, a Russian fighter was shot down by Syrian rebels on Saturday while conducting air strike operations near the city of Maasran in Idlib, Syria. The pilot reportedly successfully ejected from the aircraft, but was killed in a firefight with rebels who were attempting to take him prisoner.
Details regarding the incident remain sparse, but it would appear that the Russia Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft was participating in a recent ramp up the Russian air strike campaign in Syria, and had launched rockets at a target just before being hit by Syrian rebels. It is not immediately clear what platform was used to take the Russian fighter down, but unconfirmed reports seem to indicate that it was a man-portable air-defense system, or MANPAD, which is effectively a shoulder fired missile platform that is primarily used to engage low flying air craft like helicopters and ground attack planes. These platforms often come with guided munitions that home in on the infrared heat source created by an aircraft’s exhaust plumes.
Footage that has emerged on social media seems to show the pilot of the Su-25 successfully ejecting from the aircraft and parachuting to the ground. The Russian government has confirmed that the pilot communicated at least once after being hit, relaying that he would be landing in rebel controlled territory.
According to sources within the Russian military and quoted first by The Aviationist, the rebel group that shot down the aircraft attempted to take the downed pilot prisoner, however, the pilot opened fire with his sidearm, a Russian Stechkin automatic pistol or APS, forcing the rebels to engage and ultimately kill him. The Russian source, who claimed to have seen early images from the crash site, said the evidence clearly showed that the Russian pilot died fighting.
“One store [ammunition magazine] is completely empty, the other two are consumed more than half. The pilot led the fight.” The anonymous source claimed.
Images of the pilot’s body that have also found their way onto social media sites like Twitter seem to support the theory that the pilot was killed in a firefight with rebels on the ground. There is no parachute in any of the images, seeming to suggest that the pilot successfully made landfall and moved to find cover or engage the Syrian rebels, assuming the images were not staged in any way.
According to the Kremlin, the air strike the Su-25 conducted before being shot down killed as many as 30 Syrian rebels.
The Russian military has been providing direct military support to Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime throughout the nation’s civil conflict, despite widespread accusations of the nation’s formal government committing war crimes against its people. Soon after taking office, President Trump ordered a ballistic missile strike on a Syrian air base manned by both Syrian and Russian military personnel, as a result of intelligence tying that air base to a chemical weapon attack carried out on civilians in rebel controlled territory weeks prior.
The United States has been providing support to rebel groups within Syria, leading many to see the Syrian conflict as a form of proxy war between the United States and Russia, though all parties involved enjoyed a short, though tenuous, reprieve from fighting one another as both Russian and American allied forces worked to rid the region of Islamic State forces in recent months.
Watch the dramatic footage of Syrian rebels shooting down a Russian Su-25 below:
Image courtesy of YouTube