Posts Tagged ‘Syria’

Syria: From the sublime to the shameful.

Posted: August 15, 2015 in Syria
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Rimal Beach, Tartous, Syria

What follows is a report from a resident of Aleppo whose identity is not revealed for reasons of security.  Their reports delve deep into the terrorist underworld and expose many of the NGO and media narratives, as propaganda and hypocrisy.  We are thankful to these brave, courageous people who bring us the truth from inside Syria, without them we would still be in the dark as to the extent of the terror they are forced to endure day after night at the hands of the US  alliance funded and armed mercenary brigades.

An Escape from Reality

My sojourn on the Syrian coast was exquisite but too brief, a welcome respite from the hardship in Aleppo.

We left Aleppo just before sunrise.  The coast is to the West of us but we drove into the hazy sunrise, towards the east. This is Syria, where the crisis has made many things nonsensical.  The direct routes and main highways have been occupied and sabotaged by armed terrorist gangs and there is an ever present risk of sniper fire on these roads, so many are best avoided at all cost.

As we bumped & rattled along the road, 3 other passengers were conversing with the driver about the “bloody history” of our route.  “This is where the terrorists attacked a bus” said one, “there is where the terrorists massacred a Christian family”, said another.  “That is where Da’esh targeted a high ranking SAA General” said the driver, pointing at the burned out remains of a car and van on either side of the road, dust covered, eerie reminders of the assassination.  It was a sobering experience to travel this road of tragedy with its ghosts of lives taken so brutally and senselessly.

The road from Aleppo to Homs, shaped like a mirrored letter C, was the desert road.  We went through many fake check points and over rough gravel surfaces that, at one point, resulted in a flat tyre.  However, once past Homs the change is extraordinary.  The roads to Tartous are in good condition and the closer we got to the coast, the greener our surroundings.  This is how I remember the highways in Syria before the “conflict”.  This was Old Syria..the one that ceased to exist after 2011.

Some Syrian provinces have fared better in the crisis than others, but every one of them has been touched by loss.  Not one has been without its casualties in the Syrian armed forces.  Tartous, for instance, is considered one of the safest areas in Syria [maybe because of its Russian naval base] but even here, when you enter someone’s house you see the familiar pictures of lost sons, daughters, uncles, brothers, fathers on the walls, paying homage to the brave family members fighting terrorism in far flung provinces.

My destination was my teenage haunt of ar Rimal ad-Dhahabiyya [the Golden Sands] about 15km to the north of Tartous City.  The resort is secure, with water 24/7 and electricity, maximum 15 hours per day.  I was even able to turn on the air conditioning, an unheard of luxury in Aleppo.  Internet reception is excellent, again in marked contrast to the limited 3G reception in Aleppo.

Rimal is a reminder of Syria before 2011.  Peaceful ambiance, laughter, dancing, bikinis, parties. A typical Mediterranean resort, far removed from the ravages of war.  A cosmopolitan gathering of Syrian families without bombs, rockets or mortars to shatter their joviality. Hijabs mingling with bikinis on the packed beaches.

The peaceful early morning beaches, Rimal.

The only flares in the night skies came from celebratory fireworks not from terrorist rockets or mortar fire.  Here you could see Christians and Muslims from many different sects sitting side by side in friendly camaraderie.  None of the sectarianism being described in Western media, none of the religious judgementalism.

I did stumble upon several demolished chalets that closely resembled the bombed structures in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria.  In reality, the local municipality had demolished them because they were an eyesore and had been erected illegally by the corrupt resort manager. I couldn’t help thinking that they might still appear in an HRW tweet or in Western Media with the caption of the ubiquitous barrel bombs that are being blamed for everything.  I would certainly not put this beyond the “rebel” propagandists.

Demolished chalets in Rimal, Tartous

I do know that photos & videos from Rimal have been used by the “opposition” to claim that Syrians & the Syrian Government are rejoicing in the deaths of their countrymen.  One of my relatives informed me that nobody had celebrated in the resort for the last four years out of respect for the suffering in Syria.  For the first time this year, they felt that they needed some relief from the intensity of the struggle and to remember the good old days in Syria when unity and peace were the norm. So let the terrorists mock our happiness, we have had enough of the sadness and sorrow that they have imposed upon us.

Life became a series of indulgences during my time in Rimal.  Delicious food, beautiful balmy nights, swimming in the warm sea with my nephews and nieces [although jellyfish were a less palatable hazard]. I had to laugh when at one point, I bumped into a group of elderly men and women discussing politics in the shallows.  They were even criticizing the government quite openly and stridently without “reprisal”.

I can’t tell you what a luxury it was to have a shower and an air conditioned room.  How quickly did I forget the showers in Aleppo, a large cup and a washbowl!

The drive back to Aleppo

All too soon, my time in paradise came to an end and after 6 days we were heading back to Aleppo. On the way back, I noticed that the C-like road between Homs and Aleppo had changed, even in such a short time.  As quickly as the Government were trying to asphalt roads in some areas, the terrorists were bombing them at night to create new craters and crevasses, forcing drivers back onto the gravel roads.  However, I can proudly say the Government was winning even this battle.  There were more newly asphalted roads than sabotaged ones.

I did manage to take some photos of the Aleppo province villages alongside that arid, remote highway.  These villages are famous, with their mud conical roofs, a typical feature of these village homes.  Originally they would have built miniature versions for birds, chickens and small domestic animals but over time they had evolved into human dwellings.  I remember seeing old WW11 and even WW1 archive videos showing Australian troops marching among these conical roofed houses, military motorcycle riders stopping to give the locals a pillion ride for fun.  Now these homes are deserted and abandoned, their inhabitants forced to flee inside or outside Syria, refugees from their own lands.

Queiq River and its deadly secrets

Returning to Aleppo after such a delicious transportation into Syria of old, made me reflect on one important aspect of Aleppo, Queiq or Koweik, Aleppo’s river.  A thousand years ago this river fortuitously burst its banks in the winter and swept away the Crusader camps who were besieging Aleppo. In the summer its flow dries to a trickle that is the source of jokes and local proverbs.  The river lost much of its importance decades ago when Turkey built a dam at its source reducing flow into Aleppo & diverting its waters into Turkish territory.

The river was reduced to a dry valley, distinctly malodorous in the summer.  This ensured the loss of all the species of fish that had been documented by western scientists and historians centuries before. Turkish-Syrian relations had improved in the decade prior to the crisis to the extent that the Aleppo river basin had been converted into a series of canals dotted with beautiful bridges, illuminated at night.
With the advent of the crisis, however, the tide literally turned.  The river formed a natural border between terrorist held eastern Aleppo and government held western Aleppo.

The river became the terrorist dumping ground for dead bodies, massacred by the terrorists not by the government as depicted in western media whose sole aim was & still is,  to demonize the Syrian government.

A couple of years back, the terrorists were sending young kids to buy huge amounts of bread supplied by the government to feed the people of Aleppo city.  Once purchased, this bread was callously dumped in the river resulting in a crippling bread shortage for a long time.  Eventually the government managed to round up the culprits and imprison them.  I don’t have to tell you how the media portrayed this activity but the truth is, it was necessary to ensure the people of Aleppo didn’t starve.

The terrorist held areas in the East receive all the water from the Euphrates but they can’t store it all, so they have solved this issue by pouring thousands of litres of clean water into the filthy, contaminated water of Queik which is, of course, undrinkable.  This is not all, the Red Crescent is then pumping this filthy water into huge cisterns which is piped to the taps that people are using to fill up their water containers.

The Red Crescent is claiming that the water is clean and only needs chlorine tablets or boiling to purify it.  They ignore the fact that the river has been a dumping ground for dead and decaying corpses, stale bread, sewage and a myriad of filth and rubbish over the last 4 years.  Their actions in supplying this water to residents are indefensible, their claims that it is safe are criminal.

Those capable of dumping bread and clean water into a contaminated river to prevent half the city from eating the bread or having clean drinking water are committing heinous crimes against humanity.  I am not sure if it is a “war crime” as such but they are the real “infidels” if there is any real meaning for this word that they bandy about so liberally.

They are not “freedom fighters” or “moderates” that NATO and their allies are supporting so vociferously.  We are suffering from lack of water, we go thirsty while they are intentionally squandering it.  I watch, heavy hearted, as the elderly and children patiently wait in endless queues in the searing heat to fill their assorted containers.  I see them having to lug these heavy containers through the narrow alleyways, struggling under the weight as the precious water splashes into the dust beneath their feet.

Children carry a cylinder of water in a street of the Syrian city of Aleppo on April 17, 2014. PHOTO / ALEPPO MEDIA CENTRE / ZEIN AL RIFAI

I feel nothing but rage when I see these thugs and criminals on the other side of the city pouring thousands of litres of clean, fresh water into the disease infested river under the noses of the thirsty Syrians they are claiming to liberate.  They are the terrorists, they are the monsters in this story and they are committing daily mass crimes against the citizens of Aleppo but this is never mentioned by the western media.  Are we not Syrian?  Does our plight mean nothing, does our story not count?  This is Aleppo, the real Aleppo, not the western media fantasy, this is our sleeping, waking, perpetual nightmare of life under terrorist occupation.

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Images recently uploaded to Twitter by the Free Syrian Amy’s ‘Division 30’ show combatants with US-made arms. In one image, a Mk 14 EBR (enhanced battle rifle) series weapon is visible in the foreground, while another fighter holds what is likely an M16A4 rifle.

The Mk 14 EBR series are self-loading rifles chambered for 7.62 x 51 mm and typically employed as designated marksman rifles (DMR). Originally introduced by the US Navy, Mk 14 series rifles have since been produced for other US service branches and sold to foreign allies. The model pictured appears to have been produced by Rock Island Arsenal, in Illinois. Minor diagnostic details such as the type of optic, scope mount, bipod, and other components distinguish it from other models. It is designated as the M14EBR-RI, and some 6,200 examples were fielded by the US Army. Another photo uploaded the same day shows fighters with a 120 mm M120 mortar system, with one fighter carrying another M16-type rifle.

FSA fighters from Division 30 with an M120 mortar system.

It is not clear how Division 30 acquired these weapons, but it is likely they received them as part of a US-administered train and equip programme. The Mk 14 EBR has previously been seen in Iraq in the hands of IS fighters, as seen below, thought to be captured from Iraqi security forces who had, in turn, received it from the United States. With recent reports that Jabhat al-Nusra fighters successfully abducted members of Division 30, and killed others, there remains a possibility that some of these supplied weapons will yet find their way into the hands of other groups.

This is an authentic report from an Aleppo resident whose identity is protected for their own security.  They are living through the daily hardships of life in an externally created war zone.  Water and electricity shortages, NATO & US backed terrorists embedded in multiple areas of the city creating random buffer zones where the risk of being sniped or shelled is a daily occurrence. I have retained as much as possible of the original report with minimal editing as its important to maintain the narrative as it is, raw and heartfelt, from someone who sees this ravaged city as home.

Aleppo before the conflict.

“Travelling to the other part of the city

A friendly taxi driver we know wanted to visit his house on the other side of Aleppo.  An area where the terrorists and the so-called “rebels” are in control. He had heard that the Syrian jets attacked the area and bombed a place close to his house. He went in the Eid vacation (17-19th of July) with his wife for 2 days. A trip that used to take 20-30 min from one part of the city to another, took something like 10 hours, because they had to go  25 miles away from the city to make a U-turn and enter from another area  They had to pass through many villages under  terrorist control to reach the eastern part of Aleppo city, and finally their home.
They went in a bus, and he didn’t take his taxi car as terrorists might take it from him by force. He told me that the trip cost them $70-$100 over 2 days (transport, eating …etc), he was complaining because it’s a lot of money for him, equivalent to minimum one week’s full time work. They took most of their clothes that were still there, thanks to their only 2 neighbours who are still living in the building who protected their apartment. The remaining apartments and houses in the quarter had been robbed, broken into or damaged because they had been converted into nesting places for the terrorists.
Many good people are still going from one part of the city to the other. Many people didn’t deserve to be kicked out from their homes, and it wasn’t their choice to stay in one place or become refugees in another place.   Visiting each side is still possible for people, but it’s dangerous and not a risk I would want to take.

Citadel
My understanding is that on the 13th/14th of July, the Syrian army – who are occupying the very strategic acropolis hill of the ancient citadel of Aleppo,  in the middle of the ancient walled city, which is under the terrorist control – knew about a new tunnel that the terrorists were digging and filling up with explosives, very close to the citadel’s borders.  The Army made a counter attack and forced the terrorists out of the tunnel in a hurry.  Unfortunately the terrorists detonated these explosives before they left, and that explosion was enough to destroy part of the ramparts of the citadel. I cant help thinking if the Army hadn’t discovered this tunnel and if terrorists had drilled a longer and deeper tunnel, and armed it with 10 times more explosives, maybe the whole citadel would have collapsed.
Khosrawiyya/Chusruviyya mosque, the first and oldest Ottoman mosque in Aleppo [built in 1544] has been demolished. Same for Carlton Hotel which occupied a century old building as a multi million investment. The Mayor’s town hall, 12 stories high,  has been 80% destroyed. A Memluk or Ayyoubid period small mosque and religious school [700-1000 years old] has disappeared apart from its gate and the little minaret above the gate.

The Traditional/Turkish Bath of Yalbogha al-Nasseri [700-800 years old] is still there, but some of its big domes have collapsed. Another century-old building – that I remember sitting in for 3-4 hours 15 years ago, manually copying some information to use in my graduation project – has been damaged so badly, especially its beautiful double mirrored spiral staircase at the entrance, that it has virtually disappeared without a trace.

Those buildings have all been destroyed by the same terrorist techniques, within the last 4 years of war in the city: digging tunnels, or using ancient existing networks of tunnels under the whole old city of Aleppo.  Filling them up with explosives, to bomb everything above them. While these explosions serve as a distraction, terrorist troops will attack another target, mostly the citadel where the Syrian army is encamped. They failed so far take control of the SAA stronghold, but damage to the citadel is extensive.
Although what I mentioned above is horrible, and I know about other famous areas [markets, bazaars, mosques and churches] that have been sabotaged or destroyed; I was pleased that way more areas and buildings of the old city are still there, as I know them.  Maybe they are not that famous or masterpieces, but they are still there untouched and intact.

The war targeted the symbols of Aleppo [ the same strategy in all Syria, of course]. The bazaar of Aleppo, which has been there since 4th century AD, since the Hellenistic era, is a symbol, and it has been completely torched.  A week of continuous burning, with the smoke permeating throughout the city and this piece of history is reduced to ash on the ground.

The Great / Umayyad Mosque is a symbol, it’s almost 1000-year-old minaret has been destroyed by dynamite. The preaching stage has been dismantled (most of it taken to Turkey), several side walls have been completely destroyed.  They turned the mosque into its original and oldest land use: an Agora [Plaza] in the Hellenistic era. A similar fate for all the other lost places and monuments.
The last symbol left of Aleppo, is the most famous one: the Citadel. I can see part of it from our balcony, but I can see it more clearly from the roof of the building. It’s still there, resisting the terrorists and their funding states. It has been badly injured,  but it’s still there,  dominating the city skyline. It’s where they found the Storm God’s Temple [2nd millennium BC] a few years ago. It has withstood many invaders, including the Mongols and Crusaders. It has been damaged severely several times through history, but it has been rebuilt  over and over again, as an immortal symbol to the inhabitants, of one of the oldest living cities in history. I just pray I don’t live to witness its total destruction as I have seen happen to many of the surrounding buildings.

Souq Khan al Wazeer, Aleppo. Before and after terrorist occupation

Socially

Aleppo city has shrunk to a fifth of its original size, and became so crowded with refugees that fled their areas after they fell into terrorist hands. I walk everyday in the city. I see children, young girls without limbs because of a terrorist mortar  or shrapnel  that targets them randomly and causes  terrible wounds and horrific memories that will never leave them. The girl who lost one leg is standing on her good leg and selling bread, while the little boy who lost one arm is selling chewing gum. Those are the “injured” people who are mentioned fleetingly in the news, just numbers in one line of a report, after each attack from the terrorists. “Injured” doesn’t mean scratched or having a bleeding finger; it means someone lost his eyes or her limbs.

HRW, Amnesty International and assorted Humanitarian offshoots are on a ceaseless crusade against the SAA use of barrel bombs.  Today, Ken Roth even compared the use of Barrel bombs to the destruction caused by the nuclear bomb used on Hiroshima.

Barrel bombs are also responsible for all refugees…not our Governments imperialist, murderous plundering of sovereign nations. Then the “delectable” Annie Sparrow [ Roth’s wife] is blaming all destruction in Idlib on the SAA, never a mention of US backed terrorist chemical weapons, hell cannons, mortars, suicide bombers, beheaders, racists and rapists.

The barrel bomb itself is a rudimentary missile, cheap to produce [around $ 200 per bomb depending upon level of TNT].  It has design faults in that the fins on the bomb are still not aerodynamically perfect, despite several changes.  The detonation depends upon the bomb falling vertically on to its nose to trigger the detonator.  It actually has a  relatively high failure rate but even undetonated they are relatively safe as it would take serious nose pressure to detonate. Its supposed advantage is that it can be launched from helicopters and the accusation is always that only the SAA use helicopters in Syrian airspace.  This has been proven untrue.  It has been well documented that Turkey supplied helicopter cover for terrorist forces.  “In the morning attack on Kassab, Syria on March 21, 2014 it was Turkish military helicopters which began the attack.  That morning 88 unarmed civilians were killed, and 13 of those beheaded.  The Turkish military assisted the FSA, Jibhat al Nusra, and Al Qaeda that morning with heavy canon fire and helicopter missiles shot at the Kassab police station.”

It must be remembered that the SAA is fighting a war but not against anti government rebels as depicted in the mainstream media, rather its a dirty war against a merciless, depraved and bloodthirsty proxy army funded, armed and supported by the Empire interventionist alliance [US, Turkey, KSA, Jordan, NATO, Israel].  It is now well documented that Turkey is the main rat run, supplying weapons, supplies, chemical weapon ingredients and manpower often via the pseudo aid convoys.  Serena Shim reported that WHO trucks were running arms and equipment to “rebels” shortly before she was killed in a mysterious car accident, after receiving death threats.

In war, civilian life is lost, it is unavoidable and particularly when terrorists embed themselves into civilian areas, converting civilians into human shields.  Of course this is never mentioned by the Ken Roths and Annie Sparrows.  Neither is it mentioned that the SAA make every feasible effort to evacuate densely populated civilian areas prior to targeting terrorist cells.

Another aspect of this warfare that is consummately ignored are the terrorist mortars and hell cannons that cause extensive structural damage and massacre civilians with a range of up to one mile.  How is it that these HRW “witnesses” on the ground [presumably under a barrage of missiles from both SAA and “rebels”] can categorically state what is causing damage and loss of life.  The unreliable barrel bomb or the ground based and mobile hell cannon units that fire upon civilian areas indiscriminately or even the terrorist dug tunnels, packed with explosives and detonated as a diversion before they attack SAA/NDF positions.

Terrorist forces packing gas canisters with explosives to arm their Hell Cannons

Read Eva Bartlett’s account of terrorist mortar attacks:  The Terrorism We Support in Syria: A First-hand Account of the Use of Mortars against Civilians

 ” The people are crying and terrified by the “moderate peaceful opposition”. But we can’t bomb them because the “international community” will blame the Syrian army of using their unprecedented super ultra weapon that is way stronger than a nuclear bomb: Barrel bombs!
The terrorists are using mortars, explosive bullets, cooking-gas cylinders bombs and water-warming long cylinders bombs, filled up with explosives and shrapnel and nails, in what they call “Hell Canon”. (google these weapons or see their YouTube clips. The cooking-gas cylinder is made of steel, and it weighs around 25 kg. Imagine it thrown by a canon to hit civilians? And imagine knowing that it’s full with explosives?… Yet, the media is busy with the legendary weapon of “barrel bombs”! They came to spread “freedom” among Syrians! How dare they say that Syrian army shouldn’t fight them back?
For the first time last night, we smelled gunpowder. The shelling was so extreme to smell gunpowder in the air.
Results were nothing but new innocent victims. I mean, the terrorists failed in gaining new land, or occupying new buildings or quarters. They lost many of their “zombies”, but they don’t count, because they have no families or friends to weep on them like the case with civilians.
I apologize that I’m very upset, mostly not from the attackers and whoever is supporting them in Turkey over here (and Israel and Jordan in the south); but mainly from the liars in that conference in Britain or at the UN , who keep lying and lying, piles and tons of lies, about “freedom” and “barrel bombs” and live in their perfumed and ironed suites and ties, happy with their Ph.D. degrees in stupidity and fooling the world, having no problem in obtaining clean water, electricity, warm food, and the rest of services that we are suffering over here to obtain part of them. Those people travel in 1st class airlines, and live in 5 stars hotels, and ready to come on tv channels to weep upon the “Syrian people” and blame the “regime” while giving a blind eye upon all the terrorists they are funding and supporting. I wish these people, whether they were Arabs or Westerns, Muslims or Christians, Syrians or others… I wish them Hell! And to taste and suffer the same pain they caused to innocent people.

Syrian army had defended the city, and all the lies on the media claiming the terrorists victories are nothing but rumours and gossip.

President Bashar al-Assad had gifted Aleppo yesterday with about $15.5 million as an urgent aid to the city.”

Hell cannon Aleppo

The Hell cannon is a “wildly inaccurate” weapon even according to the Empire one man propaganda band, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.  In Aleppo the SAA is marooned in the centre of the Old Citadel and is fired upon by “rebel” positions scattered throughout the city.  These inaccurate weapons are known to have caused massive damage to ancient Aleppo edifices but have also torn into civilian areas and ripped civilian limbs and bodies into shreds.

Hell cannon Aleppo

Aleppo city has shrunk to a fifth of its original size, and became so crowded with refugees that fled their areas after they fell into terrorist hands. I walk everyday in the city. I see children, young girls without limbs because of a terrorist mortar  or shrapnel  that targets them randomly and causes  terrible wounds and horrific memories that will never leave them. The girl who lost one leg is standing on her good leg and selling bread, while the little boy who lost one arm is selling chewing gum. Those are the “injured” people who are mentioned fleetingly in the news, just numbers in one line of a report, after each attack from the terrorists. “Injured” doesn’t mean scratched or having a bleeding finger; it means someone lost his eyes or her limbs.”

There is, undeniably, a need to report upon all mortalities as a result of this devastating proxy conflict. However the glaring bias towards the demonization of the legitimate national fighting force, battling a vicious, brutal and mercenary enemy is a despicable insult to the intelligence & courage of the Syrian people and a deliberate obscurantism of truth and the extent of the duplicity and hypocrisy of our own governments.

Responsibility for the refugee crisis, the horrific deaths, rapes and kidnapping of civilians across the Middle East may be laid squarely at their blood soaked feet.

Modern conflict as Western audiences are familiar with it has been marked by well marked and uniformed modern military forces, operating instruments of war traditionally reserved for nation states, such as tanks, armored personnel carriers, and air forces. More and more these warfighting capacities are co-opted by non-state actors, increasingly through capture from state actors, purchase from third parties, or as covered in a previous post by creating homegrown alternatives such as the Kurdish tanks, Hell Cannons of the Islamic Front, or the off the shelf ISRcapabilities acquired from a simple quad rotor drone equipped with a camera. At the outset of the Syrian Civil War, only the government had armored capabilities, an air force, and the means to project power beyond short lived ambushes of police and soldiers by poorly equipped opposition fighters. As the conflict approaches its fourth year of conflict, a very different state of affairs exists. Today, nearly every faction in the Syrian Civil War possesses some form of armored capacity, ISIL captured, and for a short time operated, Syrian government MiGs representing one of the few times in history that a non-state group has operated any semblance of an air force. As the capacity to wage warfare becomes less and less the purview of only the Syrian government, the monopoly on use of force erodes more and more as government weaponry is captured.

As with the first and second guides to weapons of the Syrian conflict, this one does not attempt to cover all vehicles operated in Syria, but rather aims to touch on the most commonly seen and most influential to the conflict. For more in depth reading about the armored vehicles common to this conflict, please check out the Oryx Blog series on the tanks of Syria. For the sake of continuity, as with past articles, a Wikipedia link will be attached for each entry. It is worth mentioning that a majority of Soviet armored vehicles purchased by the Syrian government are what are known as monkey models, where some of the design elements featured on the domestic versions of the vehicle have been removed for export models. This was multipurpose, both to prevent more complicated military equipment from being captured by enemies of the Soviet Union and revealing the true capabilities of their armor to the West, to save on expense, and to prevent fickle foreign governments from attaining full strength Soviet weaponry.

Main Battle Tanks

T-55/T-54 the workhorse of the of every group that has armored capabilities in Syria, the Syrian Arab Army began the conflict with roughly 2,000 of these vehicles, and it has been the most widely fielded, as well as most widely destroyed and captured, armored vehicle in Syria. Many variants of this Russian tank exist and numerous countries have offered upgrade packages to make this 60+ year old tank more survivable on the modern battlefield, but the tank itself, in stock forms, offers a 100mm rifled cannon, armor varying in thickness from 30mm to 205mm, and calls for a crew of four (driver, gunner, loader, commander). The T-55 is an exceedingly simple vehicle to operate and maintain, which gives it staying power in the conscript armies of nations who cannot afford the expensive maintenance infrastructure of more modern designs. Similarly, it makes the T-55 an ideal vehicle for insurgencies to capture, as only a rudimentary knowledge of heavy equipment repair and maintenance is necessary to keep it running. The T-55 is no contender for combat against modern main battle tanks, but it offers significant advantages when employed against lighter vehicles, entrenched infantry, or fighters behind cover offered in an urban landscape such as buildings. However, the T-55 suffers from armor that is not able to withstand even dated anti-tank weapons like the RPG-7 ‘s most basic warheads, and especially more powerful munitions such as the controversial TOW missile or Konkurs ATGM. As a result, traditional methods of ‘plussing up’ tank armor have been employed in the form of reactive armor which explodes away from the tank when struck or the much more low tech (and inexpensive) chain armor or slat armor both designed to detonate incoming anti-tank rockets and missiles prior to actual impact on the tank. Such methods are employed on nearly all armored vehicles in Syria, and are believed to have made a real difference in survivability of low tech vehicles like the T-55. The T-55 is notable for its heavy usage by ISIL forces to spearhead assaults through massed armor supporting heavy infantry forces. This ability has been degraded by the presence of coalition airstrikes, but helped catapult ISIL to prominence in 2013 and 2014.

T-62 Developed as replacement for hte T-55, the T-62 features a larger, 115mm, smoothbore cannon, heavier armor all around, and a larger vehicle. The heavier cannon was required for field new ammunition capable of defeating modern (for the time) Western tanks. The smaller T-55 could not handle a turret large enough to field the new cannon, and thus the T-62 was born. Employed in the same manner as the T-55, and also appearing in opposition arsenals all over the country, the T-62 is similarly upgraded in various fashions to help defeat anti-tank munitions. As will be repeated theme, as with most Soviet era armored vehicles, maintenance and repair of the T-62 is relatively low level and can be conducted under austere conditions without long supply trains and logistical hubs, making the T-62 another excellent vehicle for opposition groups to field. The SAA was believed to have 1,000 at the outset of hostilities.

T-72 Arguably, the most powerful tank in the Syrian arsenal, and the most widely fielded modern Main Battle Tank in the world, the T-72 improves on previous tank generations with a larger 125mm smoothbore cannon, thicker armor than the T-62, slightly better operational range, and significantly faster. The T-72 makes extensive use of reactive armor, and is far better adapted to shrug off lighter anti-tank weapons such as the RPG-7, though still very vulnerable to ATGMs and more modern RPG variants like the [RPG-29]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RPG-29). The introduction of an autoloader removes the necessity for a crewmember dedicated to loading the main gun. Not much heavier than the previous T-62, the T-72 has the ability to operate in a variety of environments that heavier Western tanks would become bogged down in or incapable of traversing, such as light bridges. However a more complex fire control system, autoloader, and more modern powerplant make the T-72 more difficult for non-state actors to keep it maintained in functioning order. The SAA was believed to have 1.600 at the outset of hostilities

Armored Fighting Vehicles (tracked)

PTR-76 Although only lightly fielded in Syria with some 80 units in service prior to the war, the unique nature of this vehicle bears mentioning. An amphibious reconnaissance vehicle, the PT-76 would serve as the chassis basis for a number of more advanced Soviet armored vehicles. While lightly armored, relative to a main battle tank, with a 76mm cannon, the PT-76 has the ability to ford bodies of water, and functions as a light tank. Not heavily armored enough to go toe to toe with other armored vehicles or even light anti-armor weapons, the PT-76 is best used as a standoff weapon capable of delivering aimed cannon fire over a long distance. The PT-76 is an early example of a gap that existed in many armies, for a lightweight armored and tracked vehicle, with a lighter cannon, not intended for frontline combat service, but rather to ferry troops and conduct reconnaissance. Its use in Syria has not been very widespread.

BMP-1 The BMP-1, much like the PT-76, offers a stop-gap between unarmored gun-trucks and heavily armored main battle tanks. Armed with a 73mm cannon for lightly armored vehicles and troops, and a launching rail for the 9M14 Malyutka ATGM to deal with more heavily armored threats, the BMP-1 is a fast moving infantry fighting vehicle (BMP standing for Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty, Russian for: infantry fighting vehicle), thinly armored, just enough to protect the three man crew and up to eight infantry passengers from small arms and shrapnel. Not intended to go toe to toe with more heavily armored foes but rather function as a “battle taxi” shifting troops where they’re needed on the battlefield. With over 2,000 believed to be in the Syrian arsenal at the outset of hostilities, the BMP-1 constitutes the most commonly found non-tank armored vehicle and shows up in the hands of opposition groups all over the country. Earlier this month, al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra utilized a number of BMP-1s in conjunction with a few T-72s and T-55s to overwhelm the SAA defenders of Wadi al-Daif military installation in Western Syria, signalling a shift towards heavy armored operations by opposition groups to spearhead assaults and overwhelm entrenched defenders who would be difficult to otherwise defeat.

BTR-50 Similar to the PT-76, and built on the same chassis, the BTR-50 is an amphibious armored personnel carrier designed to carry large numbers of troops to and from the battlefield. Lightly armored to withstand small arms and shrapnel, the BTR-50 lacks a heavy weapon at all, either going unarmed, or with some combination of medium and heavy machine guns manned by the crew. In Syria, some BTR-50s have been modified to accept a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun on top of the hull, but this arrangement is not a common modification. The vehicle can carry up to 20 combat troops, both over water and on land, and is often reinforced by sandbags and bolt on metal armor for additional protection. In service primarily by the SAA, BTR-50s have shown up in various opposition groups. The SAA was believed to have 550 at the outset of hostilities.

Armored Fighting Vehicles (wheeled)

BTR-60 Where previous vehicles discussed have all been tracked, the next three are notable for being wheeled. Where tracks offer many advantages especially in terms of cross country ability, if a single track is disabled a vehicle is dead in the water and unable to continue moving. In contrast, the eight wheels of a BTR-60 allow the vehicle to continue moving even if several tires or deflated or destroyed. The BTR-60 is a lightly armored vehicle intended to ferry troops to and from the battlefield, much like the BTR-50. In contrast, the BTR-60 fits fewer troops (up to 14), moves much faster than tracked vehicles, and has a 14.5mm heavy machine gun turret mounted on the roof. Armor is minimal and only frontal armor will stop small arms fire at all rights, with the thinner side and rear armor being susceptible to penetration by small arms fire at close range. As such, the BTR-60 is best employed shuttling troops to the battlefield, then quickly withdrawing before attracting heavy fire. The SAA was believed to have 650 of these at the outset of hostilities.

BTR-152 Essentially the predecessor to the BTR-60, the BTR-152 borrows heavily from Second World War designs, and was the brainchild of Soviet analysts who concluded the reason they suffered such disproportionately high rates of infantry casualties was a result of a lack of armored personnel carry to move troops to the battlefield. The result was the BTR-152, a very thinly armored, open top, six wheeled vehicle, equipped with a single machine gun, requiring only a crew of two, and capable of moving 18 passengers. Numerous variants of this vehicle were produced, including command and communications, anti-aircraft with quad machine gun mounts, and mine-laying variants, and most of these variants have been seen in Syria. A major vulnerability is the open top, leading to extreme threat to those inside from grenades, or gunfire from an elevated position. Home-brewed fixes such as bolt on armor and angled canvas siding to cause grenades to roll off have met with some success, but this dated platform is not much more efficient than the technicals and armor plated trucks of the opposition. The SAA was believed to have 300 of these at the outset of hostilities.

BRDM-2 Separate from the aforementioned armored personnel carriers, the BRDM lacks any troop transport capability and is instead essentially a lightly car with turret for 14.5mm heavy machine gun on top. With a crew of four, the BRDM-2 is meant to provide reconnaissance on battlefield condition, too lightly armed and armored to do much on the battlefield as even the lightest anti-armor weapons will destroy it. It’s employment in Syria is analogous to the “technicals” employed by the opposition: fast moving, all terrain, capable of moving a heavy machine gun to a position of tactical advantage while offering slightly more protection than a dismounted infantryman. The SAA was believed to have 700 of these at the outset of hostilities.

Combat Helicopters

Gazelle The French production Gazelle is a light helicopter adapted to scouting and light attack roles, sometime operating as a host for the remaining stores of smart munitions for targeted operations against key targets, transport officials, and provide a light attack capability in support of SAA offensives. Originally intended to be armed with anti-armor missiles and employed against Israeli tanks in the event of an invasion, the Gazelle can carry medium machine guns, guided missiles or dumb rockets, and can carry three passengers. The SyAAF is believed to have 30 of these craft.

Mi-8/Mi-17 The Mi-17 Hip is a variant of the Mi-8 transport helicopter. Syria is known to possess both, and while exact figures are not clear, it’s believed to be between 80 and 130 combined. Designed as a transport helicopter it is often repurposed as a gunship, but it is infamous in the Syrian Civil War as the primary host of improvised “barrel bombs”, discussed previously our guide to unconventional weapons. Flying above conventional anti-aircraft fire range, the Mi-17 opens its rear cargo door and simply rolls the barrel bombs out the back when approximately over the target area, leading to an incredible lack of control over where the several hundred pound crude bombs explode. Capable of carrying up to 30 troops, 12 stretchers, or nearly 9,000 lbs of cargo, the Mi-17 sees work as a troop shuttle, air ambulance, and rapid resupply capability in addition to being adapted as an impromptu bomber.

Mi-25 The export variant of the Soviet Mi-24 Hind, the Mi-25 is perhaps most famous for its role in Soviet-Afghan war where it was the chariot of the Soviet infantry and functioned as heavily armored and armed air support. The Mi-25 hosts an enormous amount of weaponry, including a mixture of 12.7mm, 23mm, and 30mm cannons in single and dual configurations, winged mounted rocket and bomb pods, and window mounted machine guns, with in excess of 3,000 lbs of ordnance that can be carried on external hardpoints. Due to the nature of this aircraft’s mission and the need to be at relatively low altitude for gun strikes it is vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire, though unique in that the fuselage is armored enough to withstand 12.7mm heavy machine gun fire. The Mi-25 is capable of hauling 8 soldiers, can travel 280 miles and has a top speed of 208 miles per hour. Syria is believed to have just over 30 of these gunships.

AIRPOWER

The presence of the Syrian Arab Airforce (SyAAF) has long been attributed to the staying power of the SAA as opposition forces lacked the means to challenge SyAAF airpower initially, and even now only possess minimal anti-air capabilities, which the SyAAF has responded to be altering its operations in favor of higher flight altitudes (resulting in lower accuracy). As the war wears on, more and more Syrian aircraft have been down by anti-aircraft artillery like the ZU-23-2, captured MANPADS, and using ATGMs like the TOW missile to strike parked aircraft at government installations. Pre-war figures of 555 combat airplanes and 36 attack helicopters are decimated and it was reported in September of this year that those numbers had sunk to 295 and 25 respectively, although with no official word from Syria, it is difficult to confirm such numbers. It is likely that Russian and Iranian sources have been slowly replenishing destroyed aircraft stocks, but the SyAAF cannot continue to sustain such losses. A Syrian government victory is predicated on continued mastery of the air and the ability to reinforce and provide support for troops on the ground when besieged by opposition groups. This section will focus on Syrian government aircraft only, and will not attempt to delve into the aircraft used by coalition partners in airstrikes against ISIL.

Drones

Mohajer 4 The rise of drones in use by military forces generally covers their use in combat firing Hellfires and other guided missiles at insurgent targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is rarely covered is their extensive use by nearly every modern military force to gather real time intelligence via direct video feeds, and to give commanders strategic flexibility by being able to observe their forces in totality and gain better insight on what to do and where to move. In Syria, Iranian supplied Mohajer 4 drones deliver a reconnaissance capability the government previously did not have short of using valuable combat aircraft to perform time and manpower consuming reconnaissance missions. The Mohajer 4 is capable of 7 hours continuous flight time and can reach a flight ceiling of 15,000 feet, with a range of 150km, giving significant coverage, and able to reach well above anti-aircraft fire range, though at unknown cost to visibility and optics. Several have been downed in Syria, though whether by enemy fire or technical mishap is unknown.

Yasir Very little hard data is known about the Yasir drone, but it is reputed to be a reverse engineered copy of the US “Scan Eagle” reconnaissance drone, boasting loner range (200km) and greater flight time (8 hours) than the Mohajer 4, with a similar flight ceiling. It’s presence in Syria has not been confirmed, but with the uptick in Iranian military involvement, it is believed to be operated within Syria, possibly by Iranian controllers.

Non-Military Drones: While the Syrian government and its allies hold a monopoly of on military airpower in Syria, that has not stopped opposition groups from purchasing off the shelf “drones” in the form of remotely controlled quadcopters. Equipping them with GoPros and other off the shelf camera equipment, one can spend less than $800 on Amazon and acquire their own ISR capability in the form of products listed as “toys” like the DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter. Thirty minutes of flight time and able to reach several hundred feet up, such “drones” have been employed by numerous factions in the conflict, most notably by ISIL, featured in their propaganda videos over the Kurdish city of Kobani. As non-state actors co-opt this technology, the monopoly on standoff reconnaissance begins to shift in favor of smaller groups operating cheap, easy to acquire, civilian legal “drones”.

Fixed Wing Combat Aircraft

MiG-21 In conjunction with the MiG-23, the MiG-21 forms the bulk of the Syrian Arab Airforce, with over one hundred in service. A fighter plane, the MiG-21 has been repurposed as a ground attack, close air support, and reconnaissance platform, operating in support of SAA offensives, to bomb opposition strong points, and to relieve pressure on besieged SAA bases. As a need for fighter craft in Syria has dwindled, and with neighboring Israel conductingairstrikes in Syria almost unopposed, the bulk of Syrian combat aircraft have been adapted into a support role for the SAA. The MiG-21 carries a 23mm cannon for strafing ground targets, and can employ slightly over 2,000 lbs in bombs, rockets, or a combination of both. The rarity of smart munitions means that the bulk of air support relies on pilot skill and accuracy, both of which are severely limited by the high altitudes pilots must fly at to avoid anti-aircraft fire and MANPADS. The MiG-21 was first rolled out in combat operations during the Syrian Civil War in July of 2012. August 21st of the same year marked the first SyAAF combat loss as a MiG-21 was shot down on takeoff by enemy anti-aircraft fire. Another MiG-21 was shot down two weeks later, by heavy machine gun fire.

MiG-23 Representing the second most plentiful combat aircraft in the Syrian air force (95 pre-war), the MiG-23 is utilized in a similar fashion to the MiG-21, fulfilling a ground attack role to support SAA offensives and relieve beleagured SAA troops. It features a 23mm cannon for strafing and can carry nearly three times the ordnance of the MiG-21, with 6500 lbs of mixed bombs, rockets, and anti-air weapons. It’s unknown if any have been shot down by the opposition, but one MiG-23 was shot down by Turkish F-16s when it strayed near Turkish airspace.

MiG-25 A high speed reconnaissance and interceptor aircraft, the MiG-25 is used by the Syrian government as an ISR asset to gather imagery of enemy formations, and forms the bulk of the remaining SyAAF capability to counter any aerial assault by another country, combining extremely high speed with anti-air missiles.

Su-24 The SyAAF possesses a limited number of true ground attack aircraft, believed to be roughly twenty by pre-war estimates supplementing its aging fleet of some fifty Su-22 fighter bombers. The Su-24 is a two man aircraft with a pilot and weapons officer, supersonic capable. that carries a 23mm cannon and up to nearly 18,000 pounds of ordnance, making it the aircraft most capable of providing sustained support to troops on the ground, through a variety of munitions, guided and unguided, with a mixture of rockets, bombs, and missiles. The limited number of Su-24 makes their employment a strategic consideration that likely requires senior SyAAF approval to be saved for named operations or to prevent bases from being overrun.

L-39 (trainer) As the Syrian war has shown, necessity is the mother of invention, or in the case of the SyAAF, the mother of adaption. The L-39 is a jet trainer aircraft that has been repurposed as a light ground attack aircraft, capable of hosting a 23mm cannon and close to 3,000 lbs of ordnance. Designed to teach pilots to fly, smaller air forces have adopted the aircraft for this purpose and then retrofitted it to host anti-aircraft missiles, bomb pylons, and cannons. Syria is believed to have 40 of these aircraft, though at least two have been destroyed by ATGM attacks on Syrian airports by opposition groups.

As with the previous post on conventional infantry firearms, anti-armor, anti-air, and artillery, this post is not intended to be all inclusive but rather to provide a general overview of the most commonly employed unconventional weapons found in Syria. By the very nature of unconventional weapons, there is little public data to be found on them, so some of the analysis contained herein will be rooted in visual observation, information given by regime sources on captured equipment, information given by opposition members on their specific equipment, and the open source analysis of Western governments. By their very nature, unconventional weapons are a moving target and constantly evolving to get around the countermeasures taken to foil them. Countermeasures to such weapons would take up a whole extra post, so I will leave that to someone who is both more experienced with employing and more knowledgeable on the history of countering unconventional weapons. For the sake of continuity, where available I will use wikipedia for a more advanced definition of each item. It is important to note that while unconventional weapons are primarily a function of insurgencies and non-state actors like ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra, as logistical concerns make the procurement of new weapons difficult, the Syrian government has turned to such methods as well. In order, this post will cover:

  • IEDs including VBIEDs and Barrel Bombs
  • Chemical Weapons
  • Improvised Armored Vehicles
  • Technicals
  • IRAMs
  • Hell Cannons
  • Improvised Mortar Firing
  • Disabled Armored Vehicles as Bunkers
  • Sabotaged Munitions

IEDS Booby traps, improsived weapons, and the like have been an aspect of armed warfare for as long as their has been non-state actors and governments without access to large weapons industry. But the rise of the insurgency as the greatest challenge to state power has brought with it the rise of cottage industries dedicated to the production of weapons or components necessary to build weapons. The most visible of these weapons is the Improvised Explosive Device, but this term covers a broad range of weapons. We’ll cover them in greater detail here.

  • What’s an IED? What is HME? An IED, loosely defined, is an explosive device made from scavenged or homemade material, designed to be employed to caused damage or death to enemy equipment or personnel. They come in a wide range of sizes and types. In a munition rich environment like Iraq or Syria they will often wind up being comprised of bombs and ordnance that failed to explode, harvesting the explosives or components to repurpose them for new weapons. When there is less available explosive material, producers will turn to making Homemade Explosives or HME. This can be accomplished with commonplace agricultural or industrial chemicals and makes the denial of a source of material very difficult. An IED generally consists of four main components: case or shell to hold the explosive material, a source of fragmentation (often the shell, or metal strapped inside/outside the shell), the explosive material, and a means of detonation. Methods of employment will be listed below.
  • VBIEDs and SVBIED The carbomb or Vehicle Borne IED and its even more fearsome variant, the Suicide Vehicle Borne IED, comprise some of the most dangerous weapons in modern warfare. The civilian population has to be able to continue their daily lives and this means a continuing presence of vehicles in and around military operations. The ability of the insurgency to blend in with the population makes the VBIED an ideal weapon. Difficult to detect, and with a determined operator, even more difficult to counteract, the VBIED can pack several thousand pounds of explosives and cause tremendous damage on the scale of conventionally produced large scale bombs. While insurgencies lack precision munitions like GPS guided artillery shells or drone fired missiles, the SVBIED is the ultimate smart-munition, as its operator guides it towards its target, electing to try and blend in with his surroundings until the last minute or drive as fast as he can to avoid being prematurely detonated by gunfire or rockets. In the words of Reddit user /u/Ian_W “The critical bit about artillery isn’t the artillery but the shell factory standing behind it. One of the advantages of ISIL have is they do have the ability to manufacture their most-used assault artillery, the VBIED.” In an environment where conventional munitions are still a product of the nation state, being able to churn out highly damaging weapons is quite the boon. The SVBIED can be triggered by the operator, or remotely by a second party to ensure the operator doesn’t lose their nerve and flee.
  • S-Vests Essentially a compact version of the SVBIED, the s-vest or suicide vest, is essentially a vest or a belt of explosives, shrapnel, and a detonator. With a much smaller impact than the VBIED, the S-Vest is best suited to lower threat environments, so outside of active combat zones where a stranger approaching would be treated hostilely. These weapons are ideal for checkpoint operations where soldiers/police must get in close proximity with the individual, or crowded meeting places, to maximize damage to personnel.
  • Pressure Plate IED: The pressure plate IED is a pre-wired IED that require no one but the victim to detonate it. It comes in a variety of forms, some designed to defeat metal detectors and ground penetrating radar by use of non-metallic components, while others are simply repurposed conventional mines. The pressure plate IED works by separating the electrical components that would detonate the IED by either space or a small non-conductive piece of material. When the right amount pressure is applied (varying by IED to account for vehicle or personnel) the electrical components connect and the IED detonates. As there is no way to defeat this IED short of finding it, this is one of the most commonly found IEDs, both in Syria, and elsewhere in the world.
  • Command Wire IED: The command wire IED is an emplaced IED with a wire running from the device to the triggerman. It can be operated by electrical impulse, or by the trigger man yanking the wire. These IEDs are slightly more easy to detect as there will be a length of wire leading to a triggerman.
  • Remote Control IED: Remote control (or RC) IEDs are employed the same as command wire and pressure plate IEDs, but utilize a remote detonator. This can be accomplished by two transmitting devices, like those found in the base station and mobile set of a cordless phone, cell phones, car starters, and other such everyday items. This IED gives the detonator greater stand-off distance to avoid capture but control over detonation, to maximize the potential damage and avoid harming innocents or friendlies. However the RC IED is one of the most easily countered IEDs, by way of jamming devices which prevent the signal to detonate from being received as well as other electronic warfare devices that broadcast the signal to detonate in an attempt to detonate it before friendlies pass by.
  • Daisy Chain: One of the most feared IED attacks is the Daisy Chain. Not referring to any specific type of IED, it is rather a system of IEDs placed apart from each other on a stretch of road or trail, wired together for simultaneous detonation. The goal behind such an attack is to strike an entire convoy of troops or vehicles and cause total chaos and destruction. Where a single IED might take out one vehicle or a group of troops, a daisy chained IED network is capable of destroying an entire convoy or making a troop column combat ineffective. This tactic has been used extensively by both the government forces as well as the opposition to wreck enemy troop and equipment columns.
  • EFPs: Conventional IEDs come in all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of effectiveness against armored targets. Generally, to better target an armored vehicle, increasing the explosive yield of the IED is the best way to do so. But IED manufacturers with a high degree of skill and access to machine shops and high quality components have been manufacturing purpose built directional IEDs known as Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFP). Similar in purpose but different in design to a conventional shaped charge, an EFP is essentially a concave metal dish with an explosive charge behind it. When the weapon is detonated the metal dish is explosively cut free and forms into high velocity heavy metal slug. Almost useless against dismounted troops, the metal slug, if aimed properly is travelling at such speed and with such kinetic force that it can punch straight through armored targets like main battle tanks, making short work of lesser armored vehicles. The US Government along with Syrian conflict expert Eliot Higgins believe EFPs to be among the armaments the opposition in Syria.
  • Improvised Grenades: While numerous examples of the improvised grenades used in Syria exist in pictorial or video form, there is next to no data from the Syrian conflict on their makeup. But looking at their employment (using a lighter to ignite the fuse then throwing it as far as possible) and captured examples like these ball grenades Kurdish fighters captured from ISIL in Kobani, give us a good idea of their composition. In this particular example, a tape wrapped ball with a fuse and carrying/throwing handle, the most likely configuration would be an explosive core, harvested from undetonated ordnance or using HME, surrounded by shrapnel, wrapped in a covering (tape), with a quick burning fuse inserted. Video footage of these particular grenades in use has not surfaced yet, but it’s almost certain that is how they’re employed.
  • Barrel Bombs: Highly controversial, but nothing more than an IED rolled out the back of a helicopter or transport plane, the barrel bomb is almost exactly what it sounds like: a barrel filled with explosives, capped with detonator . Pioneered by Sudanese air forces, the barrel bomb has seen limited use in Sudan and Iraq with extensive use in Syria. The nature of such weapons means that they cannot be precisely targeted and instead rely on saturation to destroy enemy targets. Unfortunately this results in significant civilian death and destruction as these weapons land in residential areas (NSFW).

Chemical Weapons

  • Chlorine gas: The presence of chemical weapons in Syria is known and has been the point of considerable controversy as each side accuses the other of chemical weapon attacks. While the Syrian government has had limited cooperation in disposing of part of its chemical weapons stockpile, some chemical weapons are either too difficult to remove or too plentiful in non-weaponized form. Of these, chlorine gas, which has many civil and industrial purposes, can be very easily converted to use as a chemical weapon. Western governments have accused the Syrian military of employing chlorine gas multiple times, and the Syrian and Iraqi governments make claims that ISIL is employing it as well. The validity of such claims is disputed, but what is for sure is that the ability to manufacture such weapons exists in Syria. Typically this would be seen in the form of dumb bombs equipped with chlorine gas canisters, or artillery shells outfitted the same way. Chlorine gas causes irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat and high enough concentration or long enough exposure can cause asphyxiation. Unlike many tailor made chemical weapons, chlorine doesn’t hang in the air but settles rather quickly and dissipates in a short period of time, making it less than ideal as an area denial weapon.

TECHNICALS AND IMPROVISED ARMORED VEHICLES

  • Improvised Armored Vehicles More or less since armored vehicles first appeared on the battlefield, groups have been slapping metal armor onto tractors and trucks, calling them tanks and armored vehicles and driving into combat with them. The Syrian conflict is no different and there has been no shortage of homemade armored vehicles, from the 2012 Al-Ansar Brigade Playstation controller operated armored car to the Kurdish YPG’scomical looking armored personnel carries and ambulances. Essentially stripped vehicles or farm equipment with metal slabs bolted on, these ad hoc measures offer very little in the way of actual protection in a combat environment that is rife with anti-tank weapons. While such vehicle may provide limited cover from small arms fire, even heavy machine gun fire might be enough to actually cause more damage than if there was no armor at all. Any anti-armor rocket can cause a catastrophic kill on one of these vehicles and with enough velocity and kinetic power, heavy caliber rounds such as the commonplace DShk 12.7mm machine gun round can cause spalling where the impact of the round cause metal to flake off on the opposite side, spraying shrapnel inside. In an unarmored vehicle, the round would likely just pass through, connecting with whatever was inside and passing out the other side. In combat environments these vehicles have not stood up to the test of combat and are probably not worth the time, cost, or material put into them.
  • Technical While the improvised armored vehicle hasn’t proven to be an effective weapon in the Syrian conflict, the much written about “technical” has shown itself to be the preferred “cavalry” mount of both government and opposition forces. The only two real components of a technical is that it is a standard off the shelf vehicle that has been modified to accept heavy weaponry and a gunner. While the most commonly seen variant is the Hilux pickup truck or Bongo truck/van jeeps and sedans with the roof cut off off have also been seen. Generally they are equipped with a tripod or homemade weapon mount, meant to be fired from the standing position. The DShK and other heavy caliber machine guns like the KPV or converted tank/aerial machine guns are most commonly mounted, often fitted with a thin metal shield to protect the gunner from small arms fire, but offering the same spalling issues as improvised armored vehicles. Less frequently seen, recoilless rifles and anti tank weapons like the controversial TOW missile are mounted in the back to give a rapid reaction anti-armor capability. The technical is probably one of the most effective weapon systems of the Syrian conflict for its ability to combine high speed and mobility with heavy weaponry, and gives a rapid assault capability to anyone capable of gathering a few trucks and guns and welding some together some weapons mounts.

IMPROVISED ROCKET ASSISTED MUNITIONS

  • IRAMs (PDF) The Improvised Rocket Assisted Munition (IRAM) is little more than an IED strapped a to a rocket. Most commonly in the way of cooking gas cylinders filled with explosive welded to a metal pipe full of propellant, these munitions are generally fired from metal sleds slanted in the direction they want to fire them and aimed by guesstimating the distance they will go and adjusting the angle of the sled. Without a steady source of the same kind of propellent, the ability to aim such devices is impossible to do with any form of consistency and can be likened to the game Pocket Tanks where corrections are made by guessing the right angle and power mixture. Slightly more advanced IRAMs have come from machine shops in ISIL territory, though their function and accuracy is just as questionable. These IRAMs have been captured by the Kurdish YPG in Kobani, Syria.
  • Hell Cannons: Little more than an improvised mortar tube for IRAMs, Hell Cannons have come into heavy usage by the opposition as more of a fear tactic than anything else. Much like the governments barrel bombs, the Hell Cannons are not accurate enough to hit a point target but rather are used for area bombardment. Slightly more accurate than just firing from a sled, IRAMs launched from a Hell Cannon have a greater degree of control over trajectory, but suffer from the same issue as traditional IRAMs in terms of a lack of consistency in both availability of propellant and design. Operated exclusively by the opposition, a wide variety of Hell Cannons have surfaced and have been covered extensively by conflict reporters. As with barrel bombs the lack of accuracy from flinging IRAMs along a rough trajectory often into residential neighborhoods. Attributed as a leading cause civilian death and wounding, the (often questionable) Syrian Observatory for Human Rights attributes over 300 deaths to the use of the Hell Cannons.
  • Improvised Mortar Firing: As the war progresses and equipment becomes more and more worn out, measures are being taken to avoid death by equipment failure, as has been the case in numerous conflicts where improper or overuse of military equipment results in its destruction and often the death of the user. As a result, innovative ways to continue to fire these systems without the risk of spontaneous combustion have come about. One of the more common has been remotely firing rockets by way of electrical signal instead of manually, giving some standoff distance both to avoid counter-battery fire, and to ensure a detonation in the tube does not kill the firer. As with the example of the over-heated mortar detonating rounds in the tube provided in the video, mortar systems with the shell in suspended at the threat of the mortar tube and attached to a string or cord, allows the operator standoff distance to pull the cord and drop the round.

REPURPOSED ARMOR

  • Repurposing Disabled Armor: One of the hallmarks of this conflict is the oppositions quick adoption of captured armor, both tanks and otherwise. Recently in Deir Ezzor, ISIL forces are reported to have used a T-55 tank as a SVBIED indicating they either lacked parts for repair, fuel for use, or ammunition to shoot with. Rather than abandon it, its repurposing as an armored bomb may not have been the most ideal construction for a SVBIED, but it certainly increased the chances of it making it to its target without prematurely detonating from enemy fire. Similarly, the opposition outside of Damascus removed and repurposed the cannon from a disabled Russian BMP to fire it manually from inside a building. Finally, when an armored vehicle is disabled or in need of repair, both the government and the opposition have taken to towing the armored vehicle to a strategic point and emplacing it as a hardened bunker, utilizing the main gun as fixed artillery.

SABOTAGED MUNITIONS

  • Salted/Sabotaged Munitions: The Syrian army has reportedly been leaving caches of “salted” munitions for opposition groups to capture per reporting by the NY Times and other organizations. Such a tactic involves producing or manipulating bullets, shells, or other explosive weapons to explode upon use. Things like cutting short the fuze on a grenade, adding too much powder in a bullet (causing overpressure and explosion of the chamber), or mixing the wrong type of propellant in large rounds can both destroy the weapon system it is used in and seriously injure the combatant using it. The catch is that if both sides are using the same kind of weapons, there is the risk that they capture these weapons from the very people they planted them for and wind up using them in their own weapons.

There are more improvised weapons coming up in Syria every month, some incredibly creative and innovative, others crude and rudimentary. While there are plenty more worth mentioning and we could fill pages more with examples, I’m going to end it here. Worth looking at, is the DIY Weapons of the Syrian Rebels photo essay by The Atlantic.

So, the purpose of this post is not to give any sort of analysis or insight into the why or how of the weapons used in this conflict, but rather to give a basic understanding of the what. What is used, what it is, and what it’s capabilities and limitations are. This isn’t intended to be all inclusive, nor will it cover who has what. The idea is just to be a quick reference if you see a weapon name and your unfamiliar with it or want to know slightly more about it. For the sake of continuity I will provide a Wiki link for each if you want more information.This post will cover infantry small arms, artillery, anti tank weapons, anti-air, and non-conventional weapons and will hit the high frequency items but will skip over items only rarely observed (Mosin Nagants, STG-44s) or of little consequence. I will leave the aircraft and armor of the conflict to people better versed on this topic as though I have a decent understanding of armor employment and some understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, but there are others much better acquainted.

ASSAULT RIFLES (defined as a lightweight military rifle capable of select fire that shoots an intermediate caliber round) M-16– the second most recognizable firearm on earth (after the AK47) the M-16 is foreign to Syria but appears by way of captured supplies from Iraq, private donors, Kurdish smugglers, and a host of other means. While not entirely commonplace throughout the conflict, it is widespread enough that it deserves coverage. Heavily featured among ISIL fighters and the Kurdish groups (YPG and Peshmerga), the M-16 is an American designed assault rifle that fires the high velocity but small caliber 5.56x45mm round. Commonplace is many Western militaries, the rifle has gone through numerous upgrades and advances and is produced by a host of companies and under license by other countries. It boasts a longer range than the AK-47, better armor penetration than 7.62×39, light ammunition (so more can be carried) and substantially more accurate out of the box than most of it’s Eastern competitors. It is produced in multiple variants including a carbine (M-4) full length rifle (M-16A1 through M-16A4), a designated marksman rifle (DMR) with a heavier free floating barrel, aftermarket scope, and upgraded bolt carrier group, and a mechanically different variant produced by Hechler and Koch called the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle is intended to be used in full auto much like the Soviet RPK (more on that later). It is fed by a 30 round magazine although 60 round magazines and 100 round drums are available.

AK47 The AK47 is regarded as the first full production assault rifle, borrowing heavily from the design and function of the German STG-44, it fires the intermediate caliber 7.62×39 round. Where 5.56×45 is the caliber of the Western world, 7.62×39 is the more recognizable caliber of the Eastern and developing world. The AK47 is heavier than the M-16 and fires a heavier round. It is less accurate and has a shorter range (300m effective verse the M-16s 500). It is the most common weapon of the entire Syrian Civil War and is fielded by ALL sides. It’s key selling point is that it requires very little maintenance, is very rugged, and can be cleaned with the bare minimum of tools. Very few actualAK47s exist as this was the name of the first prototypes and was only in production for a few years. The more widely fielded variants of the AK47 would be modified slightly for weight and aesthetics and go by the name AKM, made from stamped metal instead of milled. The AKM has many variants, nearly all of which can be found in Syria, including the underfolding and sidefolding stock variants, Chinese Type 56s with attached spike bayonet, and numerous more modern variants. AKs can be found in Syria from Russia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, China, Bulgaria, Egypt, and the occasional Iraqi “Tabuk” variant. It is fed by a 30 or 40 round magazine, although 75 round drums are commonplace.

AK74/AK74SU The AK-74 is the Russian response to the M-16. Chambered in 5.45×39 it is a high velocity small caliber round that has devastating effects on human tissue and decent penetration of armor. While most of the Eastern bloc either replaced or supplemented their AKMs with the AK74 this caliber never really caught on in the Middle East. It is fairly rare to see it in Syria, though it does come up occasionally. Most frequently it’s observed with the Syrian Army where general’s bodyguards carry the famed “Bin Laden gun”, the carbine variant AK-74SU (my personal favorite firearm of all time- just got one last month in semi-auto). The AK-74 features greater accuracy and longer range, while mechanically and aesthetically it is almost identical to the AKM. The recoil is negligible allowing quicker follow on shots and the lighter ammunition coupled with exclusively plastic/bakelite magazines means much more ammunition can be carried.

MACHINE GUNS

RPK the RPK is essentially an AK on steroids, and functions as a light machine gun. Firing the same 7.62x39mm round it is mechanically the same, but is beefed up to stand up to sustained automatic fire with a heavier and longer barrel, thicker receiver, club foot stock (easier to grip for automatic fire), bipods, and on some variants a carrying handle. It is intended to be fed by 40 round magazine or 75 round drum, though it will also take the AK 30 round magazine. It is slightly more accurate and has slightly longer range than the AKM.

PK/PKM The PK medium machine gun (also called a general purpose machine gun or GPMG) was developed to be a lightweight replacement for heavier WWII era machine guns. It is man portable though often is crewed by an assistant gunner. It fires the heavier 7.62x54R round used in the Mosin Nagant rifle and Dragunov/PSL marksman rifles. At just under 20 lbs unloaded it is actually very light for a medium machine gun (the Western M240/FN MAG weighs 27 lbs) and is the most commonly seen dedicated machine gun in Syria and again is used by ALL groups. It has a relatively low rate of fire compared to many other MMGs at roughly 650-700 rounds per minute. This has the benefit though of allowing a seasoned operator to squeeze off individual shots once they become accustomed to the trigger where a gun with a higher rate of fire cannot do this.

DShK the Soviet answer to the American M2 .50 cal (12.7x99mm) is the very similar DShK (pronounced- Doosh Kuh or Dooshk) in 12.7x108mm. This heavy machine gun functions as an anti-aircraft gun when mounted on a tripod, general purpose heavy machine gun against troops or light armored vehicles, and is often featured atop armored vehicles in the commanders cupola or coaxially mounted with the main gun (meaning it fires wherever the main gun is aimed). Far and away the most common heavy machine gun of the conflict, the DShK is commonly seen mounted in the back of pickup trucks and bongo trucks in an armored gun mount, in a setup commonly referred to as a “technical” (commercial pickup truck and heavy gun). This gun is incredibly powerful and has a range of up to 2000m. The penetrating power of this round makes it ideally for firing at troops behind cover and it is routinely observed being used to punch holes in the brick structures Syrian fighters use as firing points. It’s ability to punch through light armor and down aircraft (particularly helicopters) makes it a very useful weapon for insurgencies to level the playing field.

KPV 14.5 there is no American analog to this weapon, it is a Soviet heavy machine gun slightly heavier than the DShK, calibed in 14.5x114mm. Initially offered as an infantry weapon it was pulled from infantry service due to weight and repurposed as an anti-aircraft weapon and a tankers gun. In the Syrian conflict it fulfills the exact same role as the DShK, though less common. It is also found in double and quad mounts in which configuration it belongs to the ZPU family of anti-aircraft weapons (both towed and self-propelled).

MARKSMAN RIFLE

Dragunov/ and PSL While different weapons mechanically, they serve the same purpose, fire the same round, and function similarly. Due to constant misidentification I’m lumping them together. A purist would be irritated, but if you’re reading this, you’re not a purist. The Dragunov was the rifle that won a Soviet competition for a new highly accurate heavy caliber rifle. Often referred to as a “sniper” rifle, this nomenclature varies by nature. The West would consider the Dragunov a designated marksman rifle as it doesn’t fit the range and accuracy requirements of the West, but Eastern bloc nations consider it both a DM rifle and a sniper rifle (the official name even includes the word Снайперская or Sniper) depending on the role it is filling. Aesthetically similar to the AK, the Dragunov is mechanically different (while the PSL is essentially an AK on steroids chambered for a different caliber), firing the 7.62x54R round from a 10 round box magazine. It comes equipped with various types of optics, most notable the 4x PSO-1 scope. While not as accurate as Western DM or Sniper rifles, the Dragunov is the most commonly fielded marksman rifle in the Syrian conflict and in the hands of a skilled operator can be devastating at up to 700-800m.

GRENADES

F-1 Far and away the most commonly seen grenades in Syria (and much of the Middle East) the F-1 is a WWII era fragmentation grenade based loosely off the French grenade of the same name. Unlike in the movies, while grenades are incredibly lethal, fragmentation grenades do not cause massive flames and gaseous explosions, but rather a relatively minor explosion that sends shards of metal in all directions. Anyone unprotected within roughly 5m of the grenade is likely to die and anyone within 15m is likely to be wounded (fatal and wounding zones respectively). This grenade has the stereotypical/cartoon body style with pre-segmented metal to increase fragmentation.

RGD-5 the replacement for the F-1, the RGD-5 is more or less just a modernized F-1, adopting a smooth outer shell and a different (greater) explosive composition, it offers roughly the same degree of lethality and wounding as the F-1 while utilizing the same fuze. Very common among all parties in the conflict.

ARTILLERY/MORTARS (note- there are MANY types of artillery used in Syria. I will only address the five I think are most common)

D-30 Probably the most commonly used non-Western artillery piece in the world, the D-30 is found in arsenals from North Korea to African rebels to both the Syrian army and opposition. A 122mm towed howitzer it is capable of firing accurately (with a trained crew) over 15 kilometers. It can accept a variety of ammunition and is relatively easy to use, with instructions for use available in both English and Russian with a simple google search. An untrained crew can get decent enough to shell an area (say several hundred meters square) and a trained crew could put rounds within 10m of their target. While normally it would be crewed by 5-7 people, in a pinch a single user can operate it (very slowly), useful for reducing the number of people to be killed in case of counter-battery fire. In Syria, it is quite often used by the opposition as a line of site weapon, dropping the elevation and firing rounds directly at a building or fortification.

D-74 similar to the D-30 in that it fires a 122mm projectile, the D-74 is a field gun instead of a howitzer and fires a heavier projectile a further distance (up to 23km). No longer produced, it was the mainstay of Soviet artillery corps for year (as well as heavier 152mm guns). Similar to the D-30 it requires roughly the same crew but can be operated (slowly by one). It is employed the same as the D-30 and is found in the hands of both government and opposition forces.

BM-37 82mm mortar the types of mortars in use in Syria are too many to enumerate but the most commonly found are variants of the Soviet 82mm mortar. Much like the D-30, variations of 82mm mortar systems and their ammunition can be found all over world. Where artillery relies on other direct fire, at close range, or long distance by firing at a relatively low arcing trajectory, mortar fire is intended for much closer targets and fires at an extremely high trajectory (this diagram should help explain ). This makes mortars ideal for dealing with targets that are in “dead” space, or area that cannot be hit by direct fire or the lower arc of artillery. Mortars are also generally light and easy to emplace making them ideal for urban warfare where they can be quickly moved.

BM-30 Smerch The Smerch (Russian: Смерч or “Whirlwind) is rocket artillery known as MLRS (Multiple Rocket Launcher System). What makes the Smerch noteworthy is for one, only government forces have them in any great number and for two, they are widely used to fire cluster munitions of anti-personnel or anti-tank mines. The SAA will use these systems when they have opposition groups about to break and retreat to fire minefields as an area denial weapon forcing the routed troops to either turn and fight at a disadvantageous position or risk death through the minefield. Unlike conventional minefields, there is no ability to map where these mines fall so collection of the munitions is risky and many unintentional deaths will occur afterwards. The Smerch is vehicle mounted and has a maximum range of 70km but accuracy peters off as range increases. It fires twelve 300mm rockets.

BM-21 Grad similar to the Smerch in function, the Grad is a smaller (122mm) truck mounted MRLS but by far the most common in the Syrian conflict. It is a 40 barrel launcher that can be salvoed at 2 rockets per second (20 seconds for all 40) or fired individually. Range is roughly 20km. Those familiar with WWII may compare these to Soviet Katyusha’s or German Nebelwerfer. Essentially, it is a (usually) truck drawn system with racks of rockets on back that are volley fired at a target (using a relatively low arcing trajectory like conventional artillery).

ANTI AIRCRAFT ARTILLERY

ZU-23-2 widely fielded as both an anti-aircraft gun and a direct fire weapon mounted on the back of heavier trucks, this double barreled 23mm autocannon fires an incredibly heavy round that is devesating to low flying aircraft, helicopters, medium skinned armored vehicles, dismounted infantry, and even troops behind thick cover like concrete apartment blocks. Intended for use as an AA gun, it quickly found dual use in a ground roll and that is where it is most commonly observed in Syria. 23 refers to the caliber and 2 refers to the number of barrels. Most useful in single shot where the heavy round can put to good use chipping away at defensive positions, in full auto it can fire as fast as 2000 rounds per minute (though in reality it cannot be loaded that fast). It’s effective firing range is over 2500 meters making it an ideal standoff weapon when your enemy only has small arms available, allowing for support by fire positions to suppress enemy infantry as your own infantry maneuvers on the enemy. It is common practice for this weapon to come with spare barrel to replace after heavy firing. After 100 rounds each barrel is considered too hot for further firing and is generally replaced to avoid cookoffs. The barrels are rated at between 8,000-10,000 rounds a piece before needing to be discarded. It is unlikely that this actually occurs in Syria and the barrels are probably in continuous use well after their service life.

ZSU-23-4 Shilka Much like the ZU-23-2, the Shilka utilizes the same 23mm autocannos, but mounts four instead of two and is self-propelled in a turret on a nondescript tank hull. Combined with a small radar set, the Shilka is absolutely devastating to low flying aircraft, with double the rate of fire of the ZU-23-2 (double the guns) coming in at nearly 4,000 rounds per minute. As with most other anti-air artillery however, it finds it’s biggest use against other medium skinned armored targets, infantry, and of course in the urban setting destroying fortifications and the cover infantry use to hide behind. The knowledge of this weapons existence in a given environment is enough to ensure that SyAAF helicopters will not come in range, and it’s armored hull means it can be used much closer to enemy forces with protection against small arms fire, though is still vulnerable to anti-tank weapons.

ZPU As referenced earlier, the ZPU family of weapons consists of towed and self-propelled double and quad mounted KPV 14.7mm heavy machine guns. Their functionality is the same as that of the ZU and ZSU family but with a smaller caliber.

MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems)

SA-7 Grail The Grail is one of the first Soviet produced MANPADS to gain widespread acceptance and is among the most common such weapon in the world. Utilizing a rudimentary passive infrared tracking system, the Grail has a range of 4,200m and a maximum altitude of 2,300m making it primarily useful against helicopters or low flying aircraft. The SAA owns an substantial number of these weapons but exact numbers are unknown. An unknown quantity are believed to have been captured by opposition members, but I could not find definitive proof on that.

[SA-16/18/24 Igla] A more advanced form of MANPADS the Igla is in use by the SAA and is rumored to have been captured by opposition groups. With a longer range and altitude, (5,200m range and 3,500m altitude) the Igla is useful against a wider array of aerial threats including drones, jets, and nearly all helicopters as well as faster than previous MANPADS at roughly Mach 2. Some versions have significant resistance to countermeasures including flares and jamming. Other improvements include a secondary charge to set off any remaining fuel and a vastly improved infrared seeker.

FN-6 the Flying Crossbow is a Chinese MANPADS intended for use against helicopters (or the rare low flying jet) with a range of 6,000m and a maxium altitude of 3,500 meters. These weapons are believed to have fallen into the hands of ISIL by way of Sudan who sold them to opposition groups in Syria. At least two Iraqi helicopters are believed to have been downed by the FN-6. This weapon utilizes infrared homing to find and hit its target and is designed to ignore flares, though heavy flare employment may defeat it.

ANTI TANK WEAPONS (covering ATGM, recoilless rifles, and dumb rockets)

SPG-9 The SPG-9 is a Soviet man portable, tripod or vehicle mounted 73mm recoilless rifle. A recoilless rifle is essentially a heavy caliber weapon that fires a large round long distance utilizing a long barreled tube that negates recoil by dumping the hot gasses out the back (making behind the gun a deadly place to be). In Syria, this weapon is used to fire high explosive rounds at armored vehicles and punch holes in covered positions. Substantially more accurate and with a longer range (800m) than handheld anti-tank weapons like the RPG-7, the SPG-9 is commonly mounted on the back of pickup trucks in the “techincal” manner described with heavy machine guns. The SPG-9 is the replacement for the older B-10 recoilless rifle

B-10 Less common than the SPG-9 the B-10 is the older recoilless rifle in use with Soviet forces following the Second World War. It is functionally the same as the SPG-9 although the range is substantially less (400m) and the caliber is different (82mm). Ammunition for this weapon is much harder to source than the more plentiful 73mm ammunition for the SPG-9.

RPG-7 Arguably the most widely used anti-tank weapon in the world, the RPG-7 was designed to be incredibly easy to operate and maintain, is available in a wide range of munitions, and can be found in the arsenals of nation states, insurgencies, and even criminal gangs. The RPG-7 functions similar to a recoilless rifle, in that it funnels much of the explosive gases out the back of the weapon, but unlike the SPG-9 and B-10, the RPG-7 utilizes a “booster” to punch the warhead out of the barrel and slightly away from the operator before the main motor kicks in and speeds the weapon up to it’s maxium speed (roughly 300m a second) far enough away from the operator that it doesn’t incinerate them ( here is a diagram that shows the pieces ). Available in numerous anti-armor variations including tandem charge to defeat reactive are slat armor, the most common warheads are the very recognizable PG-7 anti-armor and the OG-7V anti-personnel (fragmentation) warhead. The weapon is highly susceptible to cross winds and has a very limited effective range (200m). It is occasionally given greater range when meant to be used for harassing fire where accuracy is less important than constant barrage, by elevating the muzzle and arcing the round, function as a (wildly inaccurate) man portable artillery piece). The RPG-7 is most commonly found with either a 2.7x telescopic site or a night vision device. The most common anti-armor weapon in Syria.

RPG-18 Nearly a direct copy of the US M72 LAW, the RPG-18 in a single shot 62mm disposable anti-tank weapon. It is substantially lighter (4 lbs to the RPG-7’s 15 lbs) and less unwieldly than the RPG-7, which allows it to be carried by numerous members of a squad instead of having a single dedicated RPG-7 gunner who may be killed or have his weapon disabled. This weapon is less common in Syria but still occasionally observed. It’s maximum range is 200m with a timed self-destruct mechanism that prevents it being fired being this distance. It is substantially slower then the RPG-7 (110m per second) but fills the operational needs in terms of armor penetration. It cannot be reloaded.

RPG-29 One of the most modern Eastern bloc man portable anti-armor weapons, the RPG-29 is probably the most lethal man-portable system commonly used in Syria. Longer and heavier than the RPG-7, it is reloadable, and fires a variety of 105mm munitions including anti-armor tandem warheads and thermobaric rounds for anti-personnel use. It can be fired from the shoulder with an effective range of 500m (2.5x that of the RPG-7) or from a tripod assembly (less common in Syria) for 800m. A wide variety of optics are available for it and it is among one of the most highly prized weapons in the Syrian conflict, capable of single shot mobility or catastrophic kills on more advanced tanks like the T-72.

M-79 The M79 is a Yugoslav made 90mm anti-tank weapon, provided to opposition members by third party groups. Unlike the front-loading RPG-7, the Osa is loaded by screwing a warhead into the back of the weapon. It is functional very similar to the RPG-29, has a 350m effective range, can accept a variety of warheads, and commonly comes equipped with a 3.5x telescopic site.

9k111 Fagot The Soviet Fagot (English: Bassoon) is a wire guided anti-tank missile, effective up to 2,500m with a 3.5lb warhead. After firing, the user guides the weapon to it’s target by a series of commands sent via electricity through the wire, allowing the user to correct moving and follow a moving target. This weapon exists in Syrian arsenals but is not as commonly seen in this conflict.

9m113 Konkurs The Konkurs was developed alongside the Fagot as a heavier warhead wire guided missile with a longer range (roughly 4,000m). It has a slightly faster speed (200m per second) and is comparable in many regards to the US TOW missile system. This weapon system is fairly common among all actors in the Syrian Civil War.

9m133 Kornet The heaviest of all Soviet crew served anti tank guided missiles, the Konkurs is not wire guided but rather laser guided. The user simply keeps the target visually sighted and the Konkurs flies along a laser pathway to the target, in a similar manner to the Fagot and Konkurs. With a 15lb warhead and a range of 5,000m the Kornet is one of the most lethal anti-tank weapons available in Syria.

TOW and Toophan The American TOW missile (and Iranian copy the Toophan, field by Hezbollah and known to have been captured by Jabhat al Nusra) is regarded as the most accurate wire guided missile fielded today. In use by numerous militaries around the world, both from a static position, from a helicopter and mounted on armored vehicle, the TOW missile launcher pushes a 13 lb warhead up to 4,200 meters and is capable of taking out the heaviest armored threats in Syria. The TOW and it’s Iranian copy the Toophan are often confused for each other as they are aesthetically nearly identical and often only identifiable on close inspection.

It was asked how many tanks have been hit since the most recent Hama offensive (and then counter-offensive, and then counter to the counter-offensive) began when Jaish al-Fateh launched their assault in late July. I quoted 15-20 but that’s been from memory and isn’t a scientific number. I spent the past hour scouring Twitter and Youtube, and here’s what I came up with in terms of actual videos that prove it.

Liwa Fursan al-Haq destroys a bus full of soldiers at Mansoura, Hama.

Firaq 13 hits tank at al-Musheek checkpoint, Hama.

10 tanks, 1 BMP, 4 supply trucks, 1 Shilka. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. There are three Faylaq al-Sham videos that lead to dead links which showed two TOW and one Konkurs missile strike, on two tanks and a technical. Additionally, the Jabhat al-Nusra twitter accounts were suspended a few days ago and there were two videos of Konkurs strikes on tanks. 1st Coastal had a few more Hama videos that I cannot find, and Ajnad al-Sham posted at least one video of them firing either a Metis-M or a Konkurs. Altogether, it’s somewhere in the range of 16-19 tanks,1 Shilka, 1 BMP, 4 supply trucks, 1 technical, and 1 bus destroyed by ATGM. Another four technicals and one tank were destroyed in the first two days (leading up to Frikka, on the highway between Ariha and Jisr al-Shughour), but we only saw the destroyed hulks and not what took them out.
So in totality, from an hour of twitter and youtube searches, roughly 21 armored vehicles have been destroyed, a handful of technicals, and a handful of supply trucks, since the Hama offensive began. With the campaign still underway, repeated counterattacks by the SAA, and the capture of a fair number of ATGM missiles by the opposition in the first few days of the assault, it is very likely that the rate of Syrian government vehicles losses will continue to climb.
As seen on Mena Conflict

THE INTRODUCTION
On February 8th, beginning with the Syrian government offensive into Daraa/Quneitirah and then the offensive into Aleppo, I began recording the use of ATGMs by opposition forces[1] (defined here as all forces arrayed against the Syrian government with the exception of Da3sh. I wanted to only focus on Syria and not touch Iraq) when their use could be confirmed by video and there was a preponderance of evidence that the strike actually hit the target. Late March, as those offensives petered off, I stopped recording (finals were approaching/ no one seemed interested) until April 20th when the government launched an aborted offensive to capture Busra al-Harir. From April 20th to June 26th I resumed recording. I promised I’d eventually do a writeup about the results of my findings, so that’s what I’m doing here. First off, big thanks to /u/naenil [2] for making the graphics for this writeup and plotting the strikes on a map. Huge thanks to /u/swordofpontus [3] for coming over and physically helping me count the length of flight for 187 separate youtube videos. And then /u/phil_sayers [4] , /u/purpleolive [5] , and all the others who sent me videos and details.
To be added to my list, I had to be able to determine group name, location of strike, date of strike, type of missile used, and target being struck. Additionally the missile had to actually strike the target in the video or there needed to be supporting evidence that it did (like pictures of the destroyed target). I removed some 20-30 videos because they either missed or you couldn’t tell if they hit. There are still a few iffy videos, but to the best of my knowledge all of the videos we analyzed are actual hits. Most of the removed videos were Jabhat al-Nusra or Ahrar al-Sham videos where they do not film the launcher so I can’t tell exactly what they’re using (usually you can figure it out from the missile flight pattern, they were mostly Konkurs/Kornet) and they cut film right at time of impact so you can effectively judge the damage or accuracy.
A few initial notes. The excessive number of TOW strikes is definitely an indicator of their widescale proliferation in Syria, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. There are roughly 15 different ATGMs being used in Syria (Konkurs, Kornet, Metis, Bastion, Malyutka, Metis-M, Fagot, HJ-8, TOW, Toophan, Falanja, Svir, Shmel, etc). But only one of those systems MUST have a video every time it is fired. The TOW missile is provided to vetted Syrian groups[6] (Credit/u/grandmuftiofreddit [7] ). These groups head to a training center in Turkey, Jordan, or allegedly one of the Gulf monarchies. They receive roughly 2 weeks of training on the BGM-71 TOW missile[8] . When they finish, they are furnished with a launcher and approximately 5 missiles (the most given at one time is believed to be 8). To remain in the program and receive missile replacements the group must video each and every strike including the following information: startup calibration sequence (necessary for accurate firing and shows the weapon is in working order), the serial number of the TOW missile being fired, a spoken declaration of the group firing it, the date, location, and target. These videos are then furnished to the program handlers along with the expended missile tubes to get new missiles. This is to prevent the launchers/missiles from being sold/traded to other groups and helps keep close tabs on what exactly is going on with missile strikes provided by Western sources. With this in mind, one should understand that 100% of TOW strikes will be recorded and so they’ll be disproportionately represented in the videos that make it to the internet. The actual breakdown of missiles will be a lot more skewed in favor of Soviet bloc ATGMs, however exact numbers are impossible to determine.

As an additional caveat, in the Syrian conflict all ATGMs being used are, for all intents and purposes, equally lethal to nearly all armor on the Syrian battlefield, especially the most common variants: Kornkurs, Kornet, METIS-M, TOW, and Milan. The major differences are relatively unimportant in the context of 40-60 year old Syrian tanks, with the greatest differences being the range of the weapons with Kornet’s on the high end capable of 5,000m strikes and Milan’s on the low end limited to 2,000m. Given the poor state of Syrian armored forces all of these ATGMs provide enough “umph” to penetrate and destroy any tank or armored vehicle on the battlefield. None of them offers any sort of supreme advantage over the others other than range.
A final note. The time of flight was averaged across all weapons systems because the majority of the data was for TOW systems. Each system is moderately slower or faster than the other, but they all have relatively similar average speeds. We used the TOW missile’s average time of flight of 187.5 meters per second across the board, but it will technically be slightly faster or slower when looking at non-TOW missiles.

THE DATA
I have all the strikes broken down as I described above in an excel doc (not sure how to host), as well as posted here[9]. /u/naenil [10] provided some nifty infographics including a breakdown of strikes by province and by target, located here[11] (PDF warning).
Strikes by month and Time of Flight
  • Feb: 21 11.7 seconds / 2193m
  • March: 8 14.4 seconds / 2700m
  • April: 38 13.3 seconds / 2493m
  • May: 63 13.4 seconds / 2512m
  • June: 57 12.8 seconds / 2400m
  • Total: 187 13.1 seconds / 2456m
Strikes by month
  • Feb: 21
  • March: 8
  • April: 38
  • May: 63
  • June: 57
  • Total: 187
Strikes by Governorate:
  • Aleppo: 45
  • Idlib: 54
  • Quneitirah: 6
  • Daraa: 28
  • Rif Dimashq: 8
  • Suweida: 1
  • Hama: 37
  • Latakia: 6
Strikes by targets hit:
  • Tank: 66
  • BMP: 10
  • ZSU-23-4 “Shilka”: 10
  • Other Armored Vehicles: 6
  • Fuel/Ammunition/Supply/Command Trucks: 12
  • Bulldozer: 11
  • Artillery piece: 9
  • Anti-Aircraft Cannon: 32
  • Heavy Machine Guns: 10
  • Technicals: 6
  • Rocket Launchers: 4
  • ATGM Launcher: 2
  • Bunker/Checkpoint: 8
  • Unknown: 1
Strikes by missile type:
  • US BGM-71 TOW: 150
  • Russian 9M113 Konkurs: 15
  • Russian 9M133 Kornet: 7
  • Russian 9K111 Fagot: 1
  • Russian 9M14 Malyutka: 2
  • Russian 9K115-2 Metis-M: 7
  • French MILAN: 2
  • Chinese HJ-8 Red Arrow: 3

THE ANALYSIS
The proliferation of ATGMs in Syria has hit critical mass. In the early years of the war missiles would be captured piece meal, five here, five there. Gradually larger quantities got captured, with approximately 1,000 missiles captured atMahin in 2013 [12] , another 250 captured later that summer [13] , and other caches found elsewhere. Gradually ATGM strikes became more and more a reality of war and less a rare occurrence with unskilled operators. More missiles meant more shots and more shots meant greater experience with the system and more hits. In 2014 the introduction of the TOW missile program meant trained operators were firing missiles and scoring more and more hits. But ATGM strikes remained most heavily utilized in a harassing manner. Seeking targets of opportunity, groups would setup their system, fire at a resting tank or BMP, pack up shop and flee before a response could be formed. A gradual shift away from this began just prior to the recording of this data. The assault on Wadi al-Daif/Hamidiyye that resulted in a collapse of government forces, the loss of two well equipped military bases, and tremendous quantities of military equipment and supplies, saw a very close integration of ATGM teams (including a TOW missile fired right next to a Jabhat al-Nusra position, for the first time) working in tandem with recoilless rifle teams and tanks to rapidly and systematically shred all government armored forces on the defensive lines before tank supported infantry assaults began.
Looking over the data from February onward, we see a repeating of this. Strikes spike during periods of major cross-group defensives (notably Aleppo and Daraa) and are used particularly effectively in support of major offensives (especially Hama and Idlib, with notable presence in the assault on Brigade 52 in Daraa). This should not be surprising as any major military operation is going to furnish a greater number of targets for both defenders and attackers then in the static battlelines elsewhere. However, it is a relatively new phenomenon to see ATGMs so closely integrated into the opposition doctrine. Armor has long been the greatest strength of the government (along with airpower) and the raw application of massed armor has been a key tenet of government doctrine, making positions that would be otherwise difficult to defend by traditional infantry into veritable mobile fortresses with tanks acting as bunkers, artillery, hardened machine gun posts, and observation/listening posts. The ability to place a tank or two on a hill and have “Fire control” over several thousand meters around that hill dominated government doctrine for much of the early war. ATGM proliferation became a gradual problem for this, but never to the point that it’s at now.
Any major offensive in Syria conducted by the Syrian opposition will have ATGM integrated at the front lines to hunt down and destroy exposed armor that would otherwise stall out or repel traditional offensive forces. With a high concentration of ATGM gunners, Syrian government forces are stuck between remaining in place and being softer targets but providing the deterence necessary to prevent ground assault, or in moving to tertiary positions and essentially surrendering those initial defensive positions. What winds up happening is that the armor continues to move backwards into positions of greater defensive strength but in the process that new position becomes compromised when ATGM gunners and opposition forces take up position in the previous strongpoints. A chain reaction of retreats to new positions weakens the non-armored defenders and leads to routs like seen in the Idlib salient. As the armor is destroyed or withdraws the major firepower advantage is lost and opposition armor and infantry can often overwhelm individual checkpoints until nothing is left.
The consolidation of ATGM forces into broader coalitions like Jaish al-Fateh, Fateh Haleb, Southern Front, etc etc shows an adaptation to battlefield conditions that has previously evaded opposition forces. Jaish al-Fateh[14] is one of the best examples of this, crossing ideological borders for common goals, incorporating less-extreme factions into their overall battle plans. Utilizing ATGM teams as active initiator’s of offensive action instead of only as a reaction to targets of opportunities allows Jaish al-Fateh to deprive SAA defenses of their greatest land combat advantage, which facilitates the manpower infantry assaults that have overrun so many government positions in the past half a year.
Ultimately, ATGM proliferation cannot and will not win or lose the war. But it can absolutely set the conditions for a loss or win. By depriving the Syrian military of their greatest combat strength (on the ground) in conjunction with coordinated assault the armed opposition in Syria has adopted tactics that allow them to circumvent the numerical strength of the SAA and counteract their firepower advantages. If the Syrian military does not adapt to the current threat environment and either seek to counter anti-armor weapons teams, or reduce their armored footprint in favor of alternate styles of warfare, they will soon find themselves at a point where they can no longer replace their armored losses without dipping into reserves and weakening the heartland’s defensive posture.

The OSV-96, the first type of anti-materiel rifle to ever have been acquired by Syria, continues to see service with numerous factions in the now four-year long Civil War. Although the presence of the OSV-96 before the start of the Syrian Civil War was very limited, it has by now become the Syrian Arab Army’s (SyAA) second most popular anti-materiel rifle after the Iranian AM.50.

A limited number OSV-96s were acquired by the Syrian Arab Army shortly before the Civil War as part of the ambitious modernisation programme aimed at improving the protection and firepower of a portion of its infantry force at the time. This programme, cut short due to the outbreak of the civil war, also included the acquisition of various other types of Russian-made small arms such as the AK-74M, 9A-91 and the VSK-94, the latter two of which will be covered in seperate articles in the future.