Turkey-Backed Fighters Down Regime Chopper in Syria
Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters shot down a regime helicopter west of Aleppo in Syria's northwestern Idlib region, where violence and displacement has spiked in recent weeks, Turkish and Syrian state media said on Friday.
An opposition military source and eyewitnesses told Reuters Russian jets had been targeting areas in the countryside west of Aleppo earlier on Friday, but they evacuated back to the city after the helicopter was downed.
The Turkey-backed National Front for Liberation claimed responsibility, saying it was avenging the killing of civilians. Videos posted online show a helicopter spiraling downward from the sky, with flames trailing behind as onlookers cheer.
The helicopter was struck as it flew over the front lines after leaving Aleppo, which is controlled by the regime, Turkish state-owned Anadolu news agency said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists on the ground, said the helicopter was downed Friday in the village of Qibtan al-Jebel, north of Aleppo city. It said two crew members were killed and their bodies were found near the site of the crash.
The Observatory said the helicopter was shot down by Turkish military forces stationed in the opposition-held region.
Ankara acknowledged the incident in a statement but did not claim responsibility. Opposition factions downed another regime helicopter on Tuesday near the town of Nairab, to the south.
A military official told Syrian state media that Friday’s helicopter was hit by a “hostile rocket” in the western countryside of Aleppo province. The unnamed official said the helicopter crashed and its crew was killed.
Syria's military has used helicopters to drop rudimentary barrel bombs on opposition areas throughout its campaign to reclaim territory. Rights groups have documented and criticized their use in the nine-year war.
Turkey's military has sent additional arms and troops to Idlib, on its southern border, to confront a push by Russia-backed Syrian regime forces to retake the country's last major opposition stronghold after nearly nine years of war.
The Syrian Observatory war monitor said on Friday that Turkey had deployed around 6,500 soldiers to reinforce existing units in northwest Syria, as well as some 1,900 military vehicles since early February.