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Attack drones towering over tanks as Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict shows future of war

STEPANAKERT, Nagorno-Karabakh – Stretched out on a stretcher, a soldier is wrapped in gauze. Fifty percent of his body is burned, even in his throat and lungs, explains one of the paramedics in the back of the ambulance, which is a seven-hour drive from Nagorno-Karabakh to the Armenian capital Yerevan. War erupted nearly a month ago between Azerbaijan and Armenia over disputed border territory.

The ambulance slipped out of Stepanakert amid sirens of air raids, as Azerbaijani shelling of the city resumed after a six-day hiatus. Only the soldier’s burnt lips, a small part of the nose and his burnt eyelashes are visible. His hopes for survival are linked to a beeping ventilator and the two paramedics constantly inject him with morphine and saline solutions.

Journalists have been kept away from soldiers and the direct impact of the war in recent days, but plans blurred by the reinvigorated bombing of Stepanakert have led the Daily Beast to suddenly find themselves in the back of that ambulance , having an accidental glimpse of the human. consequences of war.

Kamikaze drones purchased from Israel have been used with devastating effects by Azerbaijan. These small craft also known as loitering ammunition are capable of monitoring targets such as tanks, artillery installations, or troops before they blow themselves up. Larger Turkish drones are also flying over the disputed region and launching missile strikes.

While the soldier in the ambulance was unable to tell medics how he was injured so badly, his head injuries and extensive burns match what they saw with drone strikes, a doctor at Stepanakert Hospital told the Daily Beast.

“He was damaged on the front line,” says one of the ambulance’s paramedics. “We see a lot of these injuries. We need help here. We must stop the war. It’s terrible what’s going on.

Before leaving the war zone and entering the relative safety of Armenia, there is a problem with the ventilator. A paramedic begins to manually pump air into the lungs of injured soldiers. As they are about to lose the soldier, the ambulance comes to a complete stop, while the driver attempts to restart the motorized system. Bombings can be heard in the distance.

The mountains echo the sound, making it hard to tell if the bombardment is near or far, but that doesn’t hide the discomfort of the crew being forced to stop in the middle of yet another bombardment.

A bloody war in the making

The Nagorno-Karabakh war, which was almost entirely controlled by the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, broke out on September 27. Artsakh is a small mountainous pocket in the Caucasus which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but which has claimed its independence for almost 30 years. The population is almost entirely of Armenian origin and the separatist state is supported by Armenia. The republic declared its independence after the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which lasted from the late 1980s to 1994, killing 30,000 people.

Since then, the dispute over the region has continued. The two sides fought a four-day war in 2016, but the current battles are the worst fighting the region has seen since the devastating war of the 1990s. Armenia claims to have lost around 900 troops, while Azerbaijan does not not declare its balance sheet. However, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, nearly 5,000 people have already died, and several reports point to the enormous loss of military equipment such as tanks on both sides despite two ceasefires negotiated in Moscow with Russia. as the main mediator.

Ceasefires have already been broken and the crisis is of global significance. Nagorno-Karabakh is located next to regional superpowers such as Turkey, which support Azerbaijan militarily and politically in the conflict. At the same time, Russia has entered into a defensive pact with Armenia, which makes the situation tense. The Republic of Artsakh is also located next to Iran, a major player in the region.

“We must be careful that the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan does not become a regional war,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, according to the BBC.

We have long stated that the tanks are dead without this happening … but the tanks have not performed well in the current crisis

– Ian Williams, missile defense expert

The war is also drawing increased attention in Washington, DC Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has invited leaders from Azerbaijan and Armenia for seemingly unsuccessful talks, while Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), among others, called for an immediate ceasefire.

“The aggressive actions of Azerbaijan, fully supported by Turkey in Nagorno-Karabakh and against Armenia, must stop,” Markey said. “As Azerbaijan continues its attempts to resolve this conflict through the illegal use of military force, the international community will have no choice but to take measures to recognize the independence of the Republic of Artsakh.”

He is about to die

Back in the ambulance, the soldier fights for his life. Sometimes he seems to regain consciousness just long enough to gasp in pain. Before the ambulance took off for the Armenian capital Yerevan, the stream of ambulances carrying wounded soldiers with blank stares and missing limbs from Stepanakert had been temporarily forced to stop. Air raid sirens began screaming over Stepanakert for the first time in several days, as Azerbaijani forces hit the city with what was believed to have been both planes and artillery. Doctors, nurses and patients ran to the basement of one of the city’s hospitals as explosions were heard nearby, rocking the bunker.

We can see them on our radar, but [the Turkish drones] fly too high for us to shoot them down

– Vladimir Vartanyan, military analyst for the Republic of Artsakh

A bunker medic, who declined to give his name due to restrictions on communication with the media, told the Daily Beast that around 1,000 soldiers and 300 to 400 civilians were reported dead in three hospitals in Artsakh, to his knowledge. These figures indicate many more victims than the 900 officially reported by the Defense Ministry in Artsakh, especially since the bodies of some soldiers are never recovered on the front line.

“We see a lot of soldiers with burns and wounds to the head,” the medic said, gesturing to a room in the bunker where a soldier with serious brain injuries is undergoing surgery. “Turkish drones used by Azerbaijan often cause brain damage to soldiers.”

It refers to Azerbaijani use of Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones, which penetrate Artsakh’s defenses, despite Armenia’s help.

“We can’t shoot it down”

Open source analysis gathered by Forbes The magazine followed the destruction by drones of around 200 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers, as well as 300 soft-skinned military vehicles as well as radars, short-range air defense systems. and missile launchers.

The Armenians do not have an army of drones to retaliate against Azerbaijani targets.

In an interview with the Daily Beast, Suren Sarumyan, a spokesman for the Artsakh Defense Ministry, claimed that the Republic of Artsakh had been able to shoot down several drones but admitted that the vehicles of unmanned aerial assault wreaked havoc.

“Drones are having an impact on the front line, but our soldiers are among the strongest in the world because they hold on and fight hard,” said Saroumian. “The secret is that our soldiers are defending their home, and it’s very difficult to defeat them, even with all the drones in the world.

While the military claims it can shoot down drones such as the Bayraktar TB2, Vladimir Vartanyan, a military analyst who is part of the press service of the Republic of Artsakh, disagrees.

“We can see them on our radar, but [the Turkish drones] fly too high for us to shoot them down, ”he said. He explained that a large part of Artsakh’s defenses are remnants from 1991 to 1994 and are in dire need of an upgrade. “We are using everything we have now because it is all-out war”, he said. “In my opinion, we have to buy Russian systems, which have experience in the downing of these drones in Syria.”

While Azerbaijan is said to have made significant territorial gains in the southern part of Nagorno-Karabakh, Vartanyan said: “It is essential that we start slaughtering them very quickly.”

Azerbaijan has previously confirmed that it is using Turkish drones in the war, according to Middle East Eye.

Ian Williams, an expert in missile defense and missile proliferation in the International Security Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Daily Beast that what we are currently seeing in Nagorno-Karabakh is the evolution of the war.

“We have long said that the tanks were dead without this happening. However, the Armenian tanks have not done well in the current crisis, ”said Williams. “Drones are relatively inexpensive for countries that would not normally be able to afford air support. The current crisis shows us what kind of damage they can do to an opponent without drones.

He might not get there

A paramedic holds the soldier’s head as the ambulance ascends and descends through the mountains. The respirator works again and the sound of it pumping air into the soldier’s lungs resumes. On the way to Yerevan, one of the paramedics learned that a friend died near the front line. An atmosphere of grief reigns over the ambulance as reports continue to report airstrikes in several cities in the Republic of Artsakh.

As Yerevan approaches, the soldier begins to move his arms involuntarily as his chest contracts. The situation is eased by another injection of morphine, but the paramedic shakes his head when asked if the soldier will be safe once he reaches the hospital in the Armenian capital.

“The injuries may be too severe,” he says.

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