What Kind of Bombs Are Falling on Aleppo... And Why it Matters

Bana Alabed on Twitter

The more we’re exposed to something, the more we learn to recognize it—immediately, intuitively.

We recognize the voices of those we love, those we live with, without even seeing their faces. Bird enthusiasts can pick out a particular species from a forest filled with sound. Car lovers can recognize the make and model of any car, simply by the shape of its headlights.

People who live in war zones learn to recognize the things they’re exposed to most, too—namely, the implements of war. 

The model of fighter jet can be picked out high in the sky. Small children can immediately tell the difference between fireworks and gunfire, and are even able to identify the type of gun by the sound it makes.

Bombs have their own tell-tale signatures, as well. Reporters on the ground often identify the type of bomb, but for most who live on the outside, it's all a bit of meaningless jargon.

Not so to those who are besieged in places like Aleppo.

People in Aleppo have become all too familiar with the bombs falling on their city. One woman, Fatemah, has taken to Twitter to give the world a window into the nightly bombings. (Fatemah shares a Twitter account with her 7-year-old daughter Bana, who you met in yesterday's post.)

This teacher and mother of three has learned far too much about the implements of war—and the different kinds of bombs that are falling on her city and the wider country right now.

These are the weapons of death which, sadly, have become all too familiar to Fatemah and the people of Aleppo...

Thermite Bombs

Recognizable by the incredibly hot fires they start, which are difficult to put out, thermite bombs burn through steel and asphalt. Thermite is the hottest burning man-made material on earth. If doused with water, a spray of molten metal and superheated steam is released, making it even more lethal. Thermite has been used since World War I to cause pockets of irreparable damage.

Barrel Bombs

First created in 1948, barrel bombs are cheap to make—between $200 and $300 per ordinance.  They can be dropped from most types of aircraft. These bombs are made from a barrel-shaped metal container, stuffed with explosives, oil, shrapnel (any cheap bits of metal like nails or bolts), and chemicals like fertilizer or chlorine.

Barrel bombs are unguided, so it’s impossible to select a particular target. They are used to cause maximum damage to an area. Explosives make the initial blast, to cause as much damage as possible. Shrapnel is released by the force of the blast, ripping through anything in its path—including windows, cars, humans, etc. Oil spread by the blast is then ignited, causing a widespread fire. Lastly, chemicals in the bomb—also propelled by the force of the blast and subsequent—affect people far beyond the reach of shrapnel.

Barrel bombs used in urban settings like Aleppo inevitably cause civilian casualties.

White Phosphorus

Sometimes used in nighttime warfare, burning phosphorus gives off an extremely bright white light, illuminating battlefields or urban neighborhoods. Bombs filled with phosphorus start small fires throughout a target area.

White phosphorus has immediate and deadly consequences for those affected. When it touches the skin, it quickly burns through all layers of flesh. Inhaling the smoke causes suffocation and burns inside the body.

Cluster bombs

Cluster bombs are best described as an explosive delivery system. They've been used in many forms since the 1940s. A large missile casing is used to carry and eject many smaller bombs containing explosives, chemical or biological weapons, and sometimes leaflets. They are effective because they have the ability to spray a wide area with small explosives. Bombs that fail to explode on impact become effective landmines, as difficult to detect and remove as any deliberately planted device.

Some are designed to start fires, some to penetrate armored tanks and disable rail and electrical systems. Some are designed specifically to kill humans in terrible ways.

Bunker Busters

Around since World War II, they were originally used to penetrate underground military structures. They are accurate guided missiles and expensive, used to hit specific targets, not broad areas. When these missiles are used, many deaths result from being trapped in collapsed buildings. Bunker busters are often constructed using depleted uranium—dangerous to human health for years after its use.

As Aleppo has become more dangerous from the frequent bombings, civil structures like hospitals and schools are being built underground, far from the front lines. Recently, these same hospital and schools, as well as water treatment plants and electrical generators, have been targeted and destroyed using bunker busters.

Why is it important to be able to crack the code embedded in the news whenever you see the word "bomb"?

Because it reveals intent.

If you're reading the news from Syria or Iraq, Yemen or South Sudan, much can be discerned about the intention of the bombers by the weapons they choose. There is nothing haphazard about these choices.

Bombs are being used to eliminate any safe place in city, even those carved dozens of feet underground. They are chosen to inflict damage on a wide area—and leave behind smaller ordinances that can explode at any time. They are being used to burn through swaths of the city—and kill civilians days and even years later with toxic smoke and chemicals.

These bombs are often used in a method euphemistically called "double-tap," where a second series of bombs are dropped 10 to 30 minutes after initial bombardment, in order to kill the first responders.

Bombs are being used to maximize damage done to the city—to wipe out all infrastructure, and to eliminate the resident population.

For Fatemah and her neighbors, they watch the bombs fall, wonder why the world silently observes, and then continue with the hard work of staying alive.

About Erin Wilson

Communications Officer for Preemptive Love Coalition, based in Iraq. Photographer + artist, storyteller + story gatherer, peace maker + bridge builder, student + teacher, unrepentant lover of unexpected beauty.

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What Kind of Bombs Are Falling on Aleppo... And Why it Matters
What Kind of Bombs Are Falling on Aleppo... And Why it Matters
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