Syria: Rebels Down Drone as Regime Casualties Mount
As the bloody stalemate between government and rebel forces rages on in Syria, a rebel battalion east of the capital Damascus has claimed it managed to down an unmanned drone.
In a video released online, a rebel motorcade in el-Routa el-Sharqiya paraded the downed drown, hailing it as a significant strategic victory.
Indeed, since the start of the rebellion against the Assad regime in March 2011, rebel forces initially armed with only basic small-arms have become increasingly adept at fighting the technically-superior regime forces, and are exacting a heavy toll on Syrian forces as a result.
The Syrian government has sustained heavy losses, both in terms of blood and equipment, in its two-and-a-half year struggle with rebels, which has claimed at least 115,000 lives according to UN estimates.
According to a BBC report, rebel forces have destroyed 1,100 tanks out of the Syrian military's 5,200-strong fleet. A further 357 tanks have been seriously damaged and as many as 256 have been captured by rebels.
The massive casualties inflicted against the Syrian regime's armor can be attributed largely to the seizure of a number of government weapons depots by rebel units, granting them access to heavy weaponry, including advanced anti-tank weapons and armor-piercing rounds. Such weaponry would otherwise be unavailable to them, due to the logical difficulties in transporting them along traditional routes, as well as the reticence of western states to provide serious material support out of a fear that such equipment could fall into the hands of Al Qaeda.
The Syrian Air Force has also suffered significant losses: 211 aircraft have been successfully destroyed by rebels, including attack helicopters and Russian-made MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets.
Many of them were downed with anti-aircraft weapons also seized from government-held depots, including heavy machine guns, shoulder-launched missiles and mobile anti-aircraft batteries. Others were destroyed whilst on the ground after rebels managed to overrun a number of Air Force bases.
Steady losses by Syria's regular armed forces has forced the regime to rely increasingly on Iranian-trained local militias, as well as foreign fighters from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.
Foreign fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah terrorist group have provided particularly valuable support in pushing back rebel forces, most notably in the Qusair region, in western Syria.
But facing an increasing backlash, the group recently decided to withdraw 1,200 of its fighters. Those men will apparently be replaced by Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who are playing an increasingly prominent role on the Syrian battlefield.