Three MiGs does not an Air Force make, especially when said MiGs are “covered in bird shit” — as a counterterrorist specialist quoted by The Guardian newspaper colorfully put it — and being flown by ISIL militants trained by former Iraqi air force pilots.
But if Britain’s Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) to be believed, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist group appropriate three Russian-built MiG-21s or MiG-23s when it captured a military airport near Aleppo, Syria, last February.
While U.S. Central Command told CNN they were “not aware of ISIL conducting any flight operations in Syria or elsewhere,” SORH’s network of observers say they’ve seen MiGs flying low over Aleppo, which is in rebel-held northern Syria.
But SOHR, which The Guardian says “has often proved reliable in the past,” sounds like it’s been huffing jet fumes when it says in a web post that the stolen MiGs “could be the basis for building an Air Force.”
The counterterrorist specialist The Guardian consulted offered a reality check:
Raffaello Pantucci, a counter-terrorist specialist at Rusi, said he had seen footage of captured planes and questioned their viability. “They were covered in bird shit,” he said.
Pantucci said they would pose no problem for the sophisticated air defence capabilities of the US and its Nato ally Turkey, and even to a lesser extent those of Syria’s President Bashar-al-Assad.
Ashraf said of the former Iraqi air force pilots reported to have joined Isis that it would be hard for them to keep up with the latest advances. “Flying is a very perishable skill,” he said.
Reuters made this short video about the story.