A top Iranian military official has said that his country’s unmanned aerial vehicles are conducting airstrikes in Syria, months after Iranian TV aired a video appearing to show a combat drone being tested in the war-torn country.
Major General Mohammad Bagheri, the chief-of-staff of Iran’s armed forces, claimed in a speech Sunday that his country has developed UAVs capable of pinpoint strikes that can hit a target in an area as small as one square meter.
“These UAVs are being used to hit terrorist targets in Syria and Iraq,” he added during a ceremony marking the start of the academic year at Iran’s Supreme National Defense University.
In late 2015, Iran’s SimaNews broadcast a video “claiming to have been filmed in an Iranian combat drone being tested in Syria,” according to a report prepared by France 24’s Observers program.
The London-based arms specialist magazine Jane’s Defense Weekly analyzed the footage and concluded that it shows Shahed-129 UAVs firing Sadid-1 air-to-surface rockets, including one strike outside Aleppo in October 2015.
The Shahed-129 was publicly unveiled by Iran in September 2012 and went into mass production a year later.
Jane’s notes that the drone was spotted in Syria in 2014 after pictures emerged showing it in operations around Damascus.
“At that time, the UAV was believed to be conducting surveillance mission and was not seen to be armed,” the defense publication’s report added.
Armed Hezbollah drones
Iran’s public admission that it is conducting drone strikes comes a month after its most powerful regional proxy, Hezbollah, released a first-of-its-kind video that appears to show the group bombing Syrian rebels in the village of Khalsa, southwest of Aleppo, from the air using a pilotless drone.
The footage shows three separate bombings; one of “a [rebel] leader’s base,” the second of a pick-up truck purportedly belonging to “gunmen,” the third of a tent-like structure ostensibly housing “a gathering of gunmen.” In the third clip, two canisters filled with ball bearings are seen falling beneath the camera, prompting a figure on the arid ground below to start running before two small clouds of dust erupt upon the canisters’ impact.
The use of drones by Hezbollah became more prevalent after the group’s public entry into the conflict in Syria in 2013.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV regularly aired footage taken from UAVs during offensives in Syria’s Qalamoun region and the campaign in Lebanon’s mountainous northeastern border region in 2015.
In one such instance, Al-Manar aired drone footage of party fighters ambushing several Al-Nusra Front militants on the outskirts of the Lebanese border town of Arsal.
However, the August 9 UAV footage from Aleppo was the first from that region of Syria as well as the first to demonstrate the party’s offensive drone capabilities.