By Scott Johnson
February 10, 2014
While the Assad regime’s negotiators are sitting down with representatives from the various rebel factions in the peace talks known as Geneva II this week, the regime is waging an increasingly brutal air assault campaign against civilians, using an advanced form of a crudely made ordnance known as a “barrel bomb.”
In some of the most dramatic and disturbing video footage emerging from Syria, the devices drop so fast you can hardly see them. But the explosions they send forth—massive fireballs and huge mushroom clouds of shrapnel and debris—demonstrate the barrel bombs’ lethal bursts.
Though these devices have been deployed frequently all across the country for at least a year, things have taken a troubling turn in recent weeks: In a bid to inflict maximal damage on noncombatants, the regime appears to have been working hard to improve the scope, technical sophistication, and efficiency of barrel bombs.
“If Assad can breed terror and panic amongst the civilian population, it makes things harder for the rebels,” says Michael Lewis, an Ohio Northern University professor who studies the laws of armed conflict.
With civilians weary of years of assault by Assad, and now the destruction wrought by the barrel bombs, rebels may lose the public support they need. That’s the strategy, anyway. Some speculate the barrel bombs are a sign of the Syrian regime’s weakening and desperation, though that is hard to quantify.
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