Sunday morning, the Azerbaijani air, artillery and armored forces launched a large-scale offensive targeting Armenian settlements and troop positions along the entire length of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
After a bloody war in the early 1990s, Azerbaijani and Armenian troops continuously clashed at the region’s fortified borders. Passions remain high due to past ethnic cleansing and atrocities perpetrated by both sides, as well as the religious divide between Christian Armenia and Muslim Azerbaijan.
However, the current fighting is of an unusual scale and severity. Armenia declared martial law and began to mobilize reservists. Azerbaijan has closed its airports.
Turkey has openly affirmed its support for the Azerbaijani offensive, while Russia is officially allied with Armenia.
You can read this previous article to learn more about the events leading up to the current escalation and reports emerging from the war zone.
This article examines the apparent involvement of Turkish-built drones in the conflict, followed by the most recent reports of losses and changes of territory.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have published images of fighting in an attempt to influence the narrative of who is “winning” the conflict.
Armenian military sources have released numerous images showing damage or destruction of Azerbaijani tanks and armored vehicles by ground forces. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, has mainly posted videos of drone strikes against air defense as well as a few armored vehicles.
This phenomenon in itself is not new. Azerbaijan previously purchased a variety of advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel, and in 2016 was the first country to use a kamikaze drone in combat when it crashed Harops ammunition into a bus full of militias. Armenian. These drones were again active during the fighting of July 2020.
However, the drone strike footage shared by the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry in September showed something different – an interface that looks identical to the UCAV TB2 Bayraktar drone used by Turkey.
Turkey has used Bayraktar aggressively in the conflicts in Libya and Syria in 2020, with operationally decisive results. Although opposing surface-to-air missiles shot down a significant number of drones, Turkish UCAVs in turn managed to methodically eliminate (piloted) air defense vehicles one by one.
And once air defenses are removed, Turkish drones could ravage enemy bases, artillery positions and unhindered vehicle columns with lightweight precision missiles.
You don’t have to be a forensic expert to understand why the video released by the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry looks a lot like that of a TB2. Consider the following images of Turkish TB2 military strikes in Syria and Libya.
Now compare it to those videos released by the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry in which drones take down what appear to be 2K33 Osa (NATO codenamed SA-8 Gecko) short-range air defense systems and other vehicles.
Another video records a drone strike on an Armenian T-72 tank.
And another appears to show a drone observing and possibly helping direct artillery strikes.
While the presence of TB2 seems likely based on the interface, there remains the politically significant question of who is exploiting them.
There was reports in june that Azerbaijan was moving towards the purchase of Bayraktars, but there has been no follow-up report of an agreement being reached. Maybe it was done quietly, or maybe Turkey directly transferred the Bayraktars to the Azerbaijani army in order to help with its September offensive.
A final possibility to consider is whether Turkish military personnel are using Bayraktar drones to support the Azerbaijani army.
The more direct Turkey’s involvement, the greater the risk of an increased conflict between Armenia and Turkey. Turkish-Armenian relations are already dire due to the controversy surrounding the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Ottoman troops during World War I, which Ankara says was just a typical counterinsurgency campaign.
NKR officials have also claimed that Turkey could use US-built F-16 jets to launch cruise missiles from a safe distance at Armenian targets, but no evidence has been provided to support these. affirmations.
There is also unconfirmed reports that Syrian mercenaries airlifted to Azerbaijan from Turkey were seen en route to the Nagorno-Karabakh front.
Where is the fighting taking place? Has the territory changed hands?
The fighting is said to be concentrated at at least four points along the Nagorno-Karabakh-Azerbaijani border, as well as at Vardenis on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The bombardment spread far enough south for Iranian media to report that stray rockets landed in an Iranian city.
The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry said on Sunday it had captured half a dozen settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh, including the strategic heights of Mrov which could be used to ban logistical links between Yerevan and Nagorno-Karabakh.
After initially denying the information, the NKR chairman admitted the loss of settlements / positions, although he later claimed to have recaptured some of the lost positions.
It is also noteworthy that Azerbaijani drones and artillery are launching deeper strikes beyond the border fortifications, including in Stepanakert, the capital of the KRN.
Photos believed to show unexploded 300-millimeter rockets suggest that the powerful BM-30 Smerch long-range multiple rocket artillery is being used by Azerbaijani forces.
Azerbaijan is said to have 30 or 40 BM-30 multiple rocket trucks, each capable of mounting twelve rockets that can strike targets up to 56 miles away.
How big are the losses so far?
Both camps claim to have inflicted considerable material and human losses on their adversaries, while conceding only much lighter losses. Such discrepancies stem both organically from the “fog of war” as well as from a deliberate exaggeration in an effort to win the propaganda war.
Azerbaijani Defense Ministry complaints his forces destroyed 22 combat tanks and armor, 15 Osa or Tor short-range air defense systems, 18 drones, eight artillery systems (towed and / or self-propelled) and three ammunition depots, and killed 550 Armenians or injured.
The NKR admitted a total of 31 soldiers killed – an earlier statement also found 100 wounded. In turn, he claims that his forces shot down four helicopters and 27 drones, destroyed 33 tanks and four other types of armored fighting vehicles, and killed around 200 people.
A separate report claims the capture of 11 Azerbaijani vehicles, including a BMP-3.
A gruesome video released by Armenia appears to show three BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles incapacitated and ten Azerbaijani soldiers dead. Other videos show ammunition impacting T-72 tanks, BMP-3 combat vehicles, BTR-82 APCs, and an IMR engineer vehicle.
So far, two Armenian civilians (a woman and a girl) and an Azerbaijani family of five in the town of Gashalti have been killed amid the heavy shelling, along with 30 other Armenian civilians and 19 Azerbaijani civilians injured.
What happens next?
AzerbaijanIlham leader Aliyev may have initiated the current hostilities in an attempt to build political support after nationalist protesters briefly seized the parliament building in Baku in July during earlier skirmishes with Armenian troops. Thus, it is possible that the war will not last long if the territorial gains allow it to “declare victory and return home”.
International pressure Europe, the United States and especially Russia hastened to stop the fighting. However, Turkey’s political and material support for Azerbaijan may partially offset such pressure for some time.
Risks of escalation remain important, however, as Armenia and Azerbaijan have fighter jets, long-range missiles and rockets that could strike deep into each other’s territory. A wider conflict could disrupt or damage the lucrative oil industry in Azerbaijan, and exacerbate already latent tensions between Turkey and Russia after a year marked by clashes in Syria and Libya.
More importantly, the humanitarian cost of a wider and / or protracted conflict could be dire for both Armenians and Azerbaijanis, making diplomatic efforts to avoid escalation before the fighting escalates further. magnitude all the more vital.