Center for Strategic Communication

View Syria: downed aerial vehicles in a larger map

In July, the embattled regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad unleashed its jet fighters against the growing rebel forces of the Free Syrian Army, marking a major escalation of the bloody civil war. The rebels responded. With guns and, allegedly, Stinger shoulder-fired missiles acquired from the CIA, they sent some of Assad’s roughly 460 planes and copters tumbling in flames to the ground.

Now a Danish architect and part-time aviation journalist is mapping each claimed shoot-down of Assad’s jets and helicopters, resulting in the first running tabulation of the cost — at least in terms of machinery — of the escalating Syrian air war. Bjørn Holst Jespersen’s map, sponsored by journalist David Cenciotti’s blog The Aviationist, marks 19 possible “kills” by rebel forces, as reported in the press or seen in YouTube videos.

But some of these alleged shoot-downs are listed as being based on “weak report[s].” “The information is gathered from unverified sources (for the main part),” Jespersen warns in the map’s disclaimer. “It might be subject to change, and the list does not pretend to be complete.”

By the same token, there have been scattered reports of additional aircraft kills that Jespersen and his contributors have not yet added to the map. “For sure some helicopter cases are not (yet) on the list,” Jespersen admits.

The uncertainty reflects the difficulty of getting reliable information from the battle zone, plus the prevalence of the Free Syrian Army’s propaganda. One video from August purports to depict the destruction of a government L-39 jet, but the plane turned out to be a remote-controlled toy.

In any event, the map can help outsiders visualize the scale and intensity of the fighting in Syria, more than a year after rebels first took up arms.