Russian Chopper Shot Down By ISIS — Two Pilots Dead

Two Russian Servicemen were killed when their Mi-25 chopper was shot down by ISIS forces during a calibration flight east of Palmyra, Syria. The two pilots, Ryafagat Khabibulin and Yevgeny Dolgin, were conducting a calibration flight in the Homs province when they received an appeal from the Syrian command group for assistance, reports

“Having spent their ammunition, while turning back to the base, the helicopter was shot down by terrorists from the ground and crashed in an area controlled by the Syrian government. The crew did not survive,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

The incident was denied by the Russians until a video of the chopper being shot down was released by ISIS.

The attack took place on Friday just east of the Syrian city of Palmyra, when a large group of ISIS fighters attacked and penetrated Syrian positions. They were on the brink of capturing valuable high grounds, with Syria having no extra troops to deploy to stop the rapidly advancing radicals.

“The crew received the request from the Syrian task force’s commandment to open fire on the advancing terrorists. Captain Ryafagat Khabibulin made his decision to attack the terrorists. The advance of the terrorists was thwarted by the Russian crew’s skillful actions,” the ministry said, adding, “Having run out of ammunition, the helicopter was shot down by terrorists from the ground when making a U-turn in order to take the back course. It crashed in the area controlled by the Syrian government army. The helicopter’s crew was killed.”

The two pilots have been recommended for high state decorations posthumously.

The Mi-25 helicopter, an export version of the Mi-24D, was designed and produced in Russia in the 1970s as an assault chopper to be used in an anti-armor role as well as to offer fire support to ground forces and perform Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC) operations. In addition, it is fitted with an external load sling system and has a large cargo area for ferrying troops and equipment.

The Syrian government forces and their allies reclaimed the city of Palmyra in March this year after heavy clashes with ISIS forces, who had been occupying the city since May 2015. The outlying area was, however, strongly contested over the following months, with frequent clashes between the two forces. ISIS’ two-year-long hold on the Kweiris airbase was broken in November 2015 by Syria and its allies. The success of the operation allowed reinforcements to get in to help the Assad loyalists who were fighting to defend the base and were previously cut off.

Smoke rises above the controlled detonation of a landmine by Russian Experts in Palmyra in the central Homs province, Syria. [Hassan Ammar/AP Photo]

Russia’s involvement played a large role in the Syrian Army’s success in the area. In late September, a large ground offensive was launched in the region around the airbase. Using newly arrived Russian planes, Assad’s military provided air cover for the troops on the ground, while Russia conducted bombing runs of its own around the base.

“Syrian troops tried in the past to reach the air base with no luck but Russian airstrikes appear to have helped in forcing [the Islamic State] from the area,” the Associated Press reported.

An aerial image shows cruise missile strike on a local ISIS headquarters in Syria.[(Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP]

The loss of the two pilots in Thursday’s downed chopper brings the Russian death tally to 13 since the beginning of their involvement in Syria.

[Photo by AP Images]