ISIS claimed on Thursday that it shot down a United States warplane in northern Syria, which if true would be a significant setback to U.S.-led coalition efforts against the terrorist group in that country’s bloody and chaotic civil war which has now dragged on for more than five years.
Very little information was available about the alleged shootdown by Thursday afternoon, U.S. Eastern time — but here’s what you need to know.
1. The Claim Came From a Suspected ISIS Propaganda Group
The announcement that a U.S. warplane was shot down in the town of Markadah in the northern Syria Al-Hasakah province came from the Amaq News Agency, an organization that claims to be an independent news gathering organization, but according to experts on the region is actually part of the ISIS propaganda machine.
The Amaq News Agency — which publishes its news bulletins mainly through the app Telegram — has been the outlet through which ISIS has claimed responsibility for various acts if terror throughout the world, including the San Bernardino mass shooting, and a bombing at a Starbucks coffee shop in Jakarta, Indonesia, earlier this year.
“It has become much more assimilated into the Islamic State’s propaganda infrastructure, and now it’s a fully fledged and very important part of it. It has become the first point of publication for claims of responsibility by the group,” Georgia State researcher Charlie Winter told The New York Times.
2. The U.S. Denies That Any Plane Was Shot Down
The pin on the above map shows the location where ISIS claims that it downed the plane, but the U.S. Central Command — the Pentagon agency known as CENTCOM which coordinates U.S.-led coalition efforts in Iraq and Syria — has denied the ISIS claim.
However, according to a report by Aviation News, it remained unclear whether the CENTCOM denial applied to any U.S. warplane in Syria, or just to the loss of an A10 Thunderbolt, also know as a “Warthog,” the type of jet that ISIS says that it shot down.
The Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve has also reportedly denied the ISIS claim of a U.S. warplane shot down over Syria. CJTF-OIR is the central authority coordinating coalition efforts against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
3. A Video Appeared Online That May (or May Not) Show the Shootdown
The above video appeared on Twitter Thursday, at least purporting to show a plane that appears to crash as audible voices on the recording shout the phrase “Allahu Akbar,” a common Arabic expression meaning “God is great,” or “God is the greatest.”
No further details about the video were available, and whether it depicts events alleged to have taken place over Al-Hakasah province remains uncertain.
4. ISIS Made No Claims About the Plane’s Pilot
The ISIS-linked Amaq News Agency also said that following the shutdown, U.S. warplanes converged on the area, firing on the downed plane, presumably to destroy it with the intent of preventing American military technology from falling into ISIS hands.
But Amaq had nothing to say about the fate of the the supposedly downed A10 Thunderbolt’s pilot.
5. The A10 Thunderbolt Specializes in Support for Ground Troops
First in the air in 1972 and seeing its first military missions in 1977, the A10 Thunderbolt — manufactured by the now-defunct aviation firm Fairchild Republic — has not been produced since 1984, when President Ronald Reagan was running for a second term and “When Doves Cry” by Prince was the number one song in the country.
Nonetheless, the A10 — known affectionately as the Warthog — remains in service today and in fact is popular among troops and commanders as one of the few warplanes that’s most effective when used to provide low-flying support for ground forces. The Warthog’s GAU Avenger 30mm Gatling gun is one of the most feared weapons in the sky by opposing ground troops, firing depleted uranium cannon shells at up to 70 rounds per second.
But the 12-ton plane is also able to carry 13 tons of explosive ordnance, “including 500 pound Mk-82 and 2,000 pounds Mk-84 series low/high drag bombs, incendiary cluster bombs, combined effects munitions (and) mine dispensing munitions,” according to the plane’s profile on the Military.com site.