Insurgents in Syria are claiming to have received “game-changing” weapons which they hope will bring about a reversal of Syrian army successes over the last several months.
Following a marked increase in footage showing the use of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), reports suggest that Saudi Arabia has intensified efforts to provide insurgent groups with advanced weaponry.
Last week, Ben Rhodes, U.S. deputy national security adviser, revealed that America was going to increase the size and scope of it’s assistance to militant groups in an effort to tip the balance of the conflict. Rhodes declined to elaborate on what weapons would be given, but sources have speculated that it could include small arms and ammunition or possibly anti-tank missile systems. Despite the lack of clarity, the US declaration can be seen as a green light for it’s allies to increase it’s arming of insurgent factions.
Earlier this year, following an expose by a Croatian newspaper, the New York Times reported that a large-scale effort by Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar to arm insurgents, was aided by the CIA. The report said:
And even as the Obama administration has publicly refused to give more than “nonlethal” aid to the rebels, the involvement of the C.I.A. in the arms shipments — albeit mostly in a consultative role American officials say — has shown that the United States is more willing to help its Arab allies support the lethal side of the civil war.
It seems that the United States is again playing a role in which it gives it’s approval for regional allies to arm militant groups whose morale has suffered following a devastating defeat in the strategic al-Qusayr earlier this month. It is highly likely that the role of the US extends far beyond “consultative”, as more details emerge of the CIA’s training of insurgents in a secret location in the Jordanian desert. Indeed, militants in receipt of aid are likely to need training in the operation of advanced weapons such as anti-tank or anti-aircraft missile systems.
Despite much speculation as to the specific roles undertaken by the US and it’s regional allies in providing material assistance, evidence shows an upsurge in the use of otherwise rarely seen weapons in Syria. Also worth noting are reports of increased confidence among militant groups in and around Aleppo, as well as comments made by the Free Syrian Army’s Salim Idriss yesterday:
Over the past few weeks, a surge of videos showing militants operating ATGMs have been uploaded by various YouTube channels use by insurgent groups and outlets. The precursor to revelations earlier in the year, when militants were armed with weapons sourced in Croatia, was a similar surge in videos showing the otherwise unseen armaments such as multiple-rocket launchers. The following video is one of many uploaded over the past number of weeks, showing the operation of an anti-tank guided missile system. The video, reportedly shot in Kafr Hamra, Aleppo, may indicate an effort to reverse Syrian army advancements in Aleppo countryside and in the West of the city itself:
The next video obtained by Syria Report, shows a compilation uploaded by Liwa al-Tawhid, with clips again recorded in and around Aleppo. The first clip shows the operation of a Konkurs ATGM system in the vicinity of Menagh military airbase, around 50km north of Aleppo city. The missile is being launched while the base is being resupplied by a Syrian army helicopter.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph, citing sources, reported that as a result of America’s statement regarding the supply of weapons, an “unofficial embargo” had been lifted. As such, the green light for some Middle Eastern states was given, approving the transfer of more weapons to insurgents in Syria.
The 9M113 Konkurs is a semi-automatic command to line of sight (SACLOS) wire-guided anti-tank missile. The weapon was developed by the USSR and entered into service in 1974. The Syrian military is known to possess such missiles, but evidence of their use by the insurgency is sporadic, even a rare occurrence.
The following video shows a militant operating the Konkurs ATGM system in Aleppo, December 2012. Perhaps this particular ATGM was included in the large scale operation to arm insurgents by America and it’s allies. Indeed, the weapon could have been stolen from one of several Syrian army positions which were overrun by insurgents. Having appeared along with other weapons known to have been sourced in Croatia though, it is likely that ATGMs which appeared in late-2012 footage, were part of the consignment delivered to insurgents by regional actors with the approval and assistance of the CIA.
On the basis of footage uploaded showing previous, isolated and sporadic uses of ATGMs, and with the marked increase in recent videos, it can be concluded that militants have received further arms. Furthermore, research points to Libya as being the origin for the new batch of weaponry.
The following image, from a video recorded on May 30, shows a Konkurs ATGM tube, the production date reportedly matching that of former Libyan military stockpiles. The tube is empty – the missile having being fired just prior.
Further details from a recent New York Times report, suggest that Libya, as opposed to Croatia, is the new source for further weapons shipments to Syria-based insurgent groups. Citing official and militant sources, the report said:
Qatari C-17 cargo aircraft have made at least three stops in Libya this year — including flights from Mitiga airport in Tripoli on Jan. 15 and Feb. 1, and another that departed Benghazi on April 16, according to flight data provided by an aviation official in the region. The planes returned to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The cargo was then flown to Ankara, Turkey, along with other weapons and equipment that the Qataris had been gathering for the rebels
Recently, media activist and blogger, Arabi Souri translated a reported from Dubai-based Al Aan TV, which details secret weapon shipments from Benghazi, Libya, to Syria-based militants.
Widespread reports suggest that insurgents have received approximately 250 anti-tank missiles. Foreign Policy’s report described the development as a “windfall”.
Despite claims and counterclaims as to the receipt of anti-aircraft missiles, there have been no verified reports of aircraft having being shot down in the past number of weeks.
Undoubtedly, the Syrian army has lost a number of it’s battle-tanks to the new anti-tank guided missile. But, if history is an indicator of the near-future state-of-play on the battlefield, Syrian commanders will calibrate strategy in order to counter the threat. Having suffered losses in the Damascus countryside city of Darayya last year, Syrian tank crews improvised by adding wire mesh to the tank’s exterior in order to prevent penetration of tandem-charged anti-tank missiles such as the RPG-29.
Since early 2013, the Syrian army’s remarkable adaptation to a well-armed and ruthless insurgency came about as a result of new strategies – probably with the assistance of Hezbollah, Iranian and Russian military advisers.
It remains to be seen whether the Konkurs is the only addition to the internationally-backed insurgency, and whether the Syrian military can adapt as efficiently as it did in the earlier months of the year.
In another video uploaded today, militants learn how to prepare the Croatian RAK-12 multiple rocket launcher – one of the weapons transferred to Syria in the aforementioned operation by the US and it’s allies.
The following image shows a second-generation Chinese HJ-8 ATGM system, being operated by “Liwa Ahfad al-Rasoul”: