Guest post by Green Lemon
The Origin of Islamic State’s TOW ATGM
At the 29th December 2014, Islamic State (IS) official media channel in Damascus posted several pictures IS fighters evolving in the north-of Damascus (1), East of Homs in Al Qaryatyn mounts (2). Since the presence of IS in western Syria is very limited, a large collection of pictures is therefore assured to make a lot of noise. But what retained the attention of many observers is the picture of an Islamic State’s fighter using a TOW ATGM. This is very unusual since the only forces known to operate TOW ATGM in Syria are the moderate and US vetted armed groups. This comes a week after Jabhat Al Nusra (JaN), Al-Qaeda official branch in Syria, posted a picture and a video of a TOW’s ATGM being used in fighting against Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in Idlib province. The origin of JaN’s TOW ATGM was debated. When the first pictures of JaN’s TOW emerged in Idlib, 3 possible origins were identified by Bellingcat’s founder, Eliot Higgins (3) :
- 1- Moderate & vetted rebels operating TOW ATGM alongside JaN as previously observed in the battle of Battalion 559, eastern Qalamoun
- 2- JaN using a TOW ATGM captured in Qalamoun from Hezbollah, provided by Iran who’s known to operate a local variant of TOW ATGM, named Toofan. (4) .
- 3- JaN captured some TOW ATGM from moderated & vetted ousted a month ago from the Azawiya mountains in Idlib province (5) .
Lets check the same path for the IS’s TOW ATGM used in Damascus area.
- 1- One of the particularity of TOW ATGM is the strict ROE imposed by foreign providers. All TOW ATGM used must be documented, the operator clearly identified. The IS TOW ATGM’s operator is masked and unidentifiable, this may constitute a breach of ROE imposed on moderate & vetted rebels. In addition, since the moderate rebels are in fight with IS, a joint operation with between the 2 groups is totally inconceivable.
- 2- IS is known to operate several hundreds men in western Qalamoun, and clashes regularly with Hezbollah and Lebanese armed forces. Some suggested that IS may have captured some Hezbollah TOW ATGM in Qalamoun and used it in Damascus. TOW ATGMs used by Hezbollah were provided by Iran. Iranian TOW ATGM’s have distinctive look. Indeed, Hezbollah and Iranian TOW ATGMs tripod have 3 yellow stripes. TOW ATGM’s provided to US vetted groups have 3 black stripes. The laser designator which guide the missile to the target is also totally different in the Iranian local new and old variant TOW ATGM and consistent with those provided to vetted rebels. We can definitely rule out the Hezbollah/Iran TOW ATGM’s origin.
( IS TOW ATGM used in Damascus )
(TOW ATGM provided to US vetted groups – Notice the designator and black stripes on the tripod)
( Hezbollah TOW ATGM captured by JaN in Qalamoun)
(Iranian Toofan new laser designator )
( Hezbollah TOW ATGM captured y Israel during 2006 war with an old laser designator )
- IS captured some TOW ATGM from moderate and US vetted groups. Various rebels groups are clashing with IS fighters in this area since months. This includes Islamic Front (Jaish Al Islam mainly), Kataib Shoahad Mahin, Liwa Shohada Al Qarytayn, Tajamoe Ahmad Aboud, Kataib Ansar Al Qarytayn. Tajamo’e Ahmad Aboud is a vetted group and used TOW ATGM against SAA in the same area. The video was posted in October 2 on their Youtube Channel ( 6).
Based on evidences gathered, we can say :
- With a high degree of confidence that vetted rebels are not fighting alongside IS in Al Qaryatyn area. Evidences show the contrary, an large alliance of vetted and non vetted rebels rebels are clashing with IS in this area.
- With a high degree of confidence that the TOW ATGM showed in IS pictures isn’t an Iranian Toofan or Hezbollah TOW given the different laser designator and painting job.
- With a sufficient degree of confidence, there is good reason to believe that at the very least IS is using TOW ATGM captured on vetted groups (likely Tajamoe Ahmad Aboud).
What is still unanswered is how did IS manage to operate the whole system without training. The TOW ATGM by JaN in Idlib was used by a defector from Hazm movement trained by rebel’s foreign supporters on TOW ATGM systems (7). The same scenario happened in Qaryatyn Mounts ?
Jaish Usud Al Sharqiya (JAS), a moderate islamist group in eastern Qalamoun posted several pictures of recent battle against IS. JAS Facebook page (8) claims to have captured a TOW ATGM from IS fighters killed in Al Qaryatyn mounts (probably the one used previously). This group isn’t known to have operated TOW ATGMs. Based on the paint job, the black stripes on the tripod and the laser designator, it’s definitely a TOW ATGM provided to rebels.
Update dd January 3, 2015: video material by Jaysh Usud as-Sharqiyya:
Written by @green_lemonnn
1- Full collection of 29th December’s Islamic State’s pictures in Damascus : http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2014/12/islamic_state_uses_us-made_ant.php
2- Note that Al Qaryatyn mounts is located in Homs province, not Damascus. IS uses its own map and includes this area in Damascus wilyat. Location : http://wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=34.213506&lon=37.260132&z=11&m=b
5- Mcclatchy sources reported that the TOW ATGM used by JaN was operated by Abu Omar, a defector from Hazzm movement. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/12/16/250264_islamists-rout-syrian-government.html?rh=1
6- See their youtube channel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVE32HMozgo