What are 'barrel bombs' and why is the Syrian military using them?

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Marco Werman: Every so often we hear about bombs with clever names, but with lethal effects. There was the daisy cutter, the cluster bomb, now we're hearing about barrel bombs. Activists in Syria say the government's assault on the city of Aleppo includes the use of the barrel bombs. Their use has been condemned internationally as a war crime. Aryn Baker is Middle East bureau chief with Time. She joins us from Beirut. So, Aryn, what exactly is a barrel bomb and how do they work? Aryn Baker: Essentially, they're just an old oil barrel packed with explosives, shrapnel and maybe some kind of incendiary device like oil and they are literally pushed out of the helicopter and when they land they detonate on impact and explode, take down whatever is in their path. Werman: So this is like a government-supported IED? Baker: Essentially yeah. Instead of an insurgency making something on the ground, the government is pushing them out of planes. Werman: What has Syrian opposition activists said about these weapons? What have you been hearing from them? Baker: Well, they, as with, as you mentioned, the international community and human rights groups right, are saying that this is a war crime, and their biggest problem there is that it's hitting civilian areas. These are not weapons that can be targeted like a missile or even a rocket or a mortar. There's no way. You just roll it out the back of a helicopter or the plane, so the impact is completely arbitrary and that's where the problem is. Werman: What does that say about the Syrian government's kind of approach to its offense at this point? Baker: You can look at it in two different ways. I mean they immediate assumption would be, "OK, well, the Syrian regime is running out of weapons." That's really not the case. They get enough from Russia and Iran to suit their needs militarily. But as a weapon of terror, this thing is extremely effective because it has no predictability. You can't say, "I'm safe if I stay here or if I sit there or if my house is in the civilian area." It's completely arbitrary and that is what is so terrifying. Werman: So the government using terror on what they say is the terrorists. When Syrian officials are pressed about this what have they said about these barrel bombs in places like Aleppo? Baker: Well, they've denied it. They have just refused to acknowledge the issue that it's even happening, but we have plenty of people, including US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Victoria Nuland has said at many press conferences that they are being used and that they have absolute evidence that they are being used in this way. Werman: And the Syrian government must know that their use constitutes a war crime, right? Baker: Well, they would argue, as they have in any other situation that has drawn accusations of war crimes, that they are using them on areas where there are no civilians, where there are only militants and terrorists, which is what they call the insurgents. Werman: Do you think the use by the Assad government of these barrel bombs suggest kind of a desperation on their part? This is like the last ditch effort for them? Baker: I don't think it's last ditch. I think it is working with impunity and an effort to demonstrate that they will do whatever it takes to terrify a population that is not backing their regime. Werman: Aryn Baker, Middle East bureau chief with Time magazine speaking with us from Beirut. Thank you. Baker: Thank you.