A newly released video shows what appears to be a PKK fighter downing a Turkish AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter using a Russian made SA-18 Grouse /9K38 “Igla” man portable air defense system. The shootdown occurs at the four minute mark in the video, with the missile blowing the tail section clean off the chopper.
While it is unknown where the militants obtained such weapons, some have already speculated that Russia has supplied them to the PKK in retaliation for the downing of a Russian Su-24 fighter-bomber over the Turkish-Syrian border in November of 2015. The event caused a major diplomatic row and a steep dive in the already strained Russo-Turkish relationship. The Russian’s followed up with threats of retaliation and sanctions against Turkey.
If Russia did supply the weapons they would have great plausible-deniability. Russian and Soviet weapons like this system are common in the Middle-East. SA-18s have been provided to nearby countries like Iran, Turkey and Syria. It is therefore not out of the question that such a weapon could be looted or capturedand make it’s way into the hands of the PKK without Russian help. How the PKK learned to use the weapon is another question.
The PKK has been fighting Turkish forces for over a year since the conflict between the two groups reignited in 2015 following months of rising tensions. Since then, violence has spiraled. The PKK have been conducting ambushes and bombings while the Turks bomb and shell Kurdish inhabited areas of Turkey and PKK positions in Iraq and Syria.
The biggest question of all is whether this was a one off attack or the start of a trend. If Russia is supplying the PKK with MANPADS then more of these attacks are likely. The conflict shows no signs of slowing down and Russian anti-aircraft missiles would only add fuel to the fire.