Islamic State uses US-made anti-tank missiles in Hasakah offensive

The Islamic State has released photographs from its offensive in the eastern Syrian city of Hasakah. Two of the photos detail the use of the US-made BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missile.

The current offensive in Hasakah is happening concurrently with an offensive in Kobane in northern Syria, and a renewed push at the Deir al Zour airbase. The assaults come after Kurdish forces made significant gains in the northern Syrian province of Raqqah, considered the “capital” of the Islamic State. Over 100 people, many of them civilians, have been killed in the assaults. (For more information, see LWJ report, Islamic State attacks Kobane, Hasakah, and Deir al Zour.)

Photos released from the battle showcase the spoils gained in the fighting. Several crates of ammunition are seen to have been captured from the regime, as well as several vehicles. Other photos show dead regime soldiers, but the images are too graphic to be published by The Long War Journal. Other images highlight actual fighting, including the two showing the use of the TOW missiles.

This is not the first time the jihadist group has used the US system. Earlier this month, the Islamic State publicized the use of the missiles during the capture of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. Last December, the jihadist group also published photos showing its forces using TOW missiles against Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces in the Damascus countryside. The United States has supplied several FSA groups with TOW missiles, which have sometimes fallen into the hands of jihadist groups or have been used to assist jihadist groups. The TOWs used in Palmyra and Hasakah were likely captured from battles with the FSA in other parts of Syria.

At least one TOW missile was used by the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, in that group’s offensive on Wadi al Daif in the northwestern province of Idlib. The al Qaeda branch also publicized the usage of TOWs during its capture of Idlib city. [For more on this, see LWJ reports Al Nusrah Front uses American-made anti-tank missile in IdlibAl Nusrah Front video showcases more American-made TOW missilesAl Qaeda and allies form coalition to battle Syrian regime in Idlib.]

Last October, many FSA groups assisted the Al Nusrah Front and Ahrar al Sham, an al Qaeda ally, in southern Syria with TOWs. Soon after, the now-defunct Hazm Movement posted a video of its fighters utilizing TOWs in support of Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar (JMA) in Aleppo. The Chechen group considers itself to be the Syrian branch of the Caucasus Emirate, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist organization that operates in the North Caucasus. Jaish al Islam, a member of the Islamic Front coalition, which fights alongside Al Nusrah, has also recently published a video of its forces using a TOW in the Qalamoon mountains near Lebanon. Many FSA groups taking part in the current offensive in Idlib province have also published footage of TOWs being used to support such groups as Al Nusrah, JMA, Ahrar al Sham, and many other al Qaeda-linked jihadist groups.

Photos showing the use of TOW’s in Hasakah:

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Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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12 Comments

  • EddySaf says:

    Many countries have the BGM-71 first released 35 years ago, now so old that some countries already have replaced them with new and better missiles. ISIL would have captured some of these weapons when ISIS overran Syrian and Iraqi forces and their supply bases.

    • shloime says:

      or when they were supplied by american trainers to al-nusra, courtesy of the pentagon and state department.

  • mike merlo says:

    great news. Its good to read that all the players are actively pursuing each other & that US War Fighting Hardware appears not only welcomed but preferred

  • Ebrahavi says:

    Really? What a sweet accident! We sent them for FSA but possibly a mail address conflict has happened!

  • Jayanna Krupakar says:

    Despite advanced weapons like anti tank missiles, the FSA hasn’t gained much ground in Syria while the IS has made deeper inroads.. One may also investigate whether splinter groups in FSA have defected to IS, for monetary or other gains..

  • Don Lavery says:

    The real worry is what SAMs IS and Nusra Front have got their hands on – and whether they will turn up in Europe or elsewhere to br used against civilian airliners.

  • Dennis says:

    The strange part is, excuse me while I laugh, is we are taking some 5000 of them to teach them what? How to use TOW missile systems? How to drive humvees? M1 abrams? And their supposed to be ready next year? Are we really this stoopid? What else besides eight inch howitzers don’t they know how to use? This situation is so far beyond Mr.Obama’ s recognition that all he can think of is liberating people from their sexual dysfunctions. Let’s see what history has to say in two or three decades.

  • rabrooks says:

    As long as they keep killing each other, sell! sell! sell! It helps our economy and depletes their stores.

  • Joel says:

    Given the areas controlled by the FSA/Jaysh al-Fath/JAN, it is pretty amazing that they were able to get the TOWs up north so well. It shows that a) the rebels have some sort of supply chain that connects north and south despite many obstacles in the way (also raising a question of whether the Islamic State might allow passage of other rebels despite narrative of their mutual enmity), and b) raises possibility that rebels see fighting in the northern areas of the country as the current priority above the south, which is where the US is focusing its limited support, which leads to question c) whether the US may be simply arming groups from Turkey without saying so. If c) is affirmative, then there is no need to assume north-south transport of TOWs.

  • Robert De Brus says:

    That the Obama Admin. refuses to directly arm Kurdish forces is a disgrace. The only viable force fighting IS and we are turning our backs? Its Turkey isn’t it? The Turks hate and fear the Kurds, and we go along with it? One day they will turn on us and then it will be too late.

  • Jack Tatum says:

    Arm the Kurds. To the teeth. And then arm them some more. Forget about the FSA which is ineffective and corrupt. Give the Kurds the personnel and technology they need to spot targets for US and British airstrikes and pour it on.
    Or, we can keep doing what we’re doing which is flailing around trying to find a policy that doesn’t make anybody too upset and then we can deal with Daesh as a bona fide, albeit reprehensible and mega-violent state in a couple years.
    I’d also like to hear what some of these bozos running for President of the United States propose to do about this ongoing disaster once they replace Mr. Obama.

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