Since mid-2012 the Syrian regime has introduced a new weapon in its war against its people. Crude, cheap and destructive improvised explosive devices dropped from airplanes and known as “barrel bombs”. The bombs have wreaked havoc and caused countless civilian victims, especially in the dense urban center of Aleppo that was targeted repeatedly.
The bombs are nothing more than everyday barrels that are filled with highly explosive material along with oil and shrapnel for maximum effect. They are crude in their construction and much cheaper than conventional bombs and the devastating SCUD missiles that were also used; an especially important aspect for a regime that is strapped for cash.
There have been unverified reports of the usage of these makeshift bombs by the Syrian military since early 2012, but their use was heavily denied by Russian military experts and described as “baloney.” However, on October 27, 2012, weapons analyst Eliot Higgins, who goes under the pseudonym Brown Moses, uncovered the first photographic evidence of their usage in a YouTube video showing Syrian Air Force personnel lighting a barrel and dropping it from a helicopter.
The destructive effects of the barrels are attributed to the size of the explosives used, the frequency of the raids and the density of the urban centers that are being targeted. “Some of the analyses you see out there suggest they can hold as much as 3,000 pounds of explosives, which is enormous and dwarfs even the bigger bombs,” according to Robert Perkins, an explosive violence researcher who works for London organization Action on Armed Violence.
The cheaper material used in the explosives, which could be as simple as fertilizers, allows the regime to drop these bombs more frequently. On one day in February 2014, a documented record of 17 different barrel bombs were dropped on one single district. The shrapnel stuffed into the bombs make for a devastating effect when dropped in dense populated areas. This effect is magnified by the regime’s specific targeting of schools, hospitals and car parks in their raids.
Already since the beginning of February 2014, according to statistics of the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, more than 400 people have been reportedly killed by barrel bombs, in Aleppo city alone. By the end of 2013, the Syrian National Council estimated that more than 20,000 people have been killed by barrel bombs throughout the country.
The barbaric nature of this weapon has led to severe condemnation as well as several calls to ban it from international bodies, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague. Despite the condemnation however, barrels are still dropped on civilians by the dozens with no end in sight.