Ahrar al-Sham’s Turkish MANPADS: Russian Mi-8 Shootdown an Erdogan Bargaining Chip? August 9, 2016 Op-ed By Ollie Richardson With the news that the Russian Mi-8 that was shot down over the skies of Idlib was was likely targeted by a MANPADs, it should serve as a reminder to all that the means to thwart Russia’s air campaign are still being funnelled into Syria, which in turn leaves Hezbollah, the IRGC, and the Syrian Arab Army vulnerable on the ground. Russia’s aircraft will now have to fly higher in the sky, out of the range of any surface-to-air missile. This is not the first time (nor the last) Ahrar al-Sham have shot down a jet or helicopter in Syria: With Putin meeting Erdogan on the 8th August, there will surely have been some private discussion about just who exactly is arming Salafist groups with the means to shoot down Russian jets and helicopters. Al Nusra, using Ahrar al-Sham as a negotiator, made its demands to Russia very clear, via the “public institution for prisoners”, should they wish to claim the perished bodies of all 5 crew members on board the Mi-8 helicopter: 1. The liberation of all prisoners that are currently being held by Assad and Hezbollah. 2. The lifting of the sieges on all cities. They even published photographs of the ID cards of the crew members as proof of their holding of the bodies. It is likely that Al-Nusra knows the demands are simply ridiculous, and are basically baiting Russia into negotiations. It is no secret that Turkey has been arming and funding Salafist groups in Syria, and thus it should also come as no surprise that they are the likely party that is smuggling MANPADs into Syria, with the US turning a blind eye of course. The tweet below from an official Ahrar al-Sham account says that thus far neither Turkey nor Russia have offered each other any concessions. The responding comment from a Commander says that Turkey has copiously supported the battle in Aleppo thus far. This is definitely not breaking news, but is alarming when the now open nature of these statements is considered. Perhaps this is one of Erdogan’s bargaining chips that will be played during the process of reconciliation with Russia… Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved.