Iranian sniper rifles in the hands of Iraqi insurgents

The Telegraph reports a large quantity of Austrian made .50 caliber sniper rifles were seized in Baghdad

The Steyr HS50 sniper rifle. Click photo to view.

On the heals of a U.S. military presentation which provided evidence of Iranian made Explosively formed projectiles, mortars and other weapons being supplied to to Iraqi terrorists, as well as evidence of Iranian Qods Force operatives captured in Iraq, The Telegraph reports a significant quantity of Iranian owned sniper rifles have been seized in Iraq. Over twelve percent of Iran’s Steyr HS50 sniper rifles purchased by the “National Iranian Police Organisation” in 2005 have been found inside Iraq. The Telegraph’s Thomas Harding reports:

More than 100 of the .50 calibre weapons, capable of penetrating body armour, have been discovered by American troops during raids. The guns were part of a shipment of 800 rifles that the Austrian company, Steyr-Mannlicher, exported legally to Iran last year…

Within 45 days of the first HS50 Steyr Mannlicher rifles arriving in Iran, an American officer in an armoured vehicle was shot dead by an Iraqi insurgent using the weapon. Over the last six months American forces have found small caches of the £10,000 [about $19,500] rifles but in the last 24 hours a raid in Baghdad brought the total to more than 100, US defence sources reported…

The transfer of the deadly sniper rifles provides irrefutable proof Iran is supplying weapons to Iraqi terrorists. While not stated in the article, the weapons can be directly traced back to Iran as the serial numbers have been recorded prior to the sale and transfer.

The quantities of the weapons that have been seized on the Iraqi battlefield make it difficult for the Iranians to argue this was the work of a rogue individual. The weapons were in the hands of Iranian police, nd almost immediately wound up in the hands of Iraqi insurgents (withing 45 days). The one hundred plus rifles found are only what the Coalition can prove are in Iraq. All indications are the sniper rifles were purchased with the explicit purpose of being provided to Iraqi groups intending to kill American forces in Iraq.

It should be noted that the information provided by the U.S. military during Sunday’s briefing, as well as the information on the sniper rifles, is what the military can prove with 100% certainty. The military has strong intelligence Iran is supplying other weapons to terrorists, including anti-aircraft missiles, which have been responsible for the recent rash of helicopters downed in central Iraq. In today’s politicized environment, intelligence must now meet the evidence standards of a criminal case.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • xzins says:

    Do you have a link to the Telegraph article identifying the source of these rifles?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Updated with links, my apologies. Thanks for the catch.

  • xzins says:

    No problem. Great article, btw!

  • dan in michigan says:

    A fifty caliber rifle is a lot more than “capable of penetrating body armor”. It will go through bullet proof glass, then your vest and blow you to pieces. If the administration is not willing to deter the Iranians from supplying the “insurgents” then let’s get the hell out. Any administration that commits our troops to battle is morally obliged to do everything within it’s power to protect our soldiers. To not do so is a criminal neglect of responsibility. I am furious that President Bush is allowing this to happen.

  • AMac says:

    In today’s politicized environment, intelligence must now meet the evidence standards of a criminal case.

    Herein is the true scandal of politicized intelligence.

    Fact A will lead to Conclusion B and onward to Action C — at least, so the bien-pensants in the Editors’ Chairs believe. Since they know how the simpletons think (A->B->C), and since they know that Action C would be truly awful, the only correct course of action is to de-emphasize or ignore Fact A in the newspaper or on the broadcast.

    Simply achieving courtroom standards on the battlefield isn’t enough. As the PostModerns say, “how can we ever know anything?” Anyway, how could anyone give credence to mercenaries reporting serial numbers?

    This sclerotic belief system is hardly limited to further proofs of Iran’s undeclared involvement in the Iraq war (as if logic was somehow suspect to begin with). It’s the Iraq Study Group. And the Hard-Left narrative with the Duke Lacrosse Rape Hoax. And today’s lame-duck Bush Administration’s “Peace in Our Time” credulousness in negotiating with the DRK’s Dear Leader.

    They are still not enough for NPR’s neomarxists, but what ever would be?

  • GK says:

    So Iran is providing these rifles, and will incur no penalties for doing so.
    What do we gain by finding that these rifles came form Iran, if we have no intention to penalize Iran for it?

  • Rob says:

    “None are so blind as those who refuse to see.”
    It is clear that large swaths of the liberal media and the Democratic Party want to cover their eyes and ears and ignore what is being pushed in front of our face. We are already at war with Iran. Iran has been killing Americans for years through proxies.
    They claim it is all Bush’s fault. It is not, it is just that Iran has been enboldened to the point that it is harder and harder to ignore these facts.
    I am watching the price of oil. If the price of oil holds lower, it indicates that the Saudis are preparing to confront Iran. If they do, we will have leverage to deal with Iran. If the defeatist Democrats have their way, and sell out our military effort in Iraq, we will have no leverage anywhere.

  • AMac says:

    Ah, sorry for straying off topic, above. Delete if you want.

    A quick Google brought up this discussion thread from June 2006. Filter out The Usual, and there is some chilling tactical appreciation. ‘ch1466’ wrote:

    …the real problem, if these things make their way into any kind of OOTW context, is that you can now treble the range around any given ground action where sniping can give support and thus must ‘secure’ the equivalent number of multistory buildings or other raised terrain features in say an urban battle zone. If there are an average of 1.5 such areas per acre in Baghdad with the correct grazing angle/LOS [line of sight] now there could be as many as 4.5.

    And thats a MAJOR hit in terms of restricted maneuver and predictable ops plans.

    Not least of this potential is the certainty of counter sniper operations against U.S. teams doing the same for our guys. We are outnumbered over there 12:1 and look nothing like the natives. Having already lost, what was it, SIX snipers in a single engagement, we would do well to remember our conspicuity and vulnerability when .50 rounds start to ventillate walls in OUR sniper nests.

    Having said that, the principle danger is always going to be the unexpected and /unmarked/ attack on oil infrastructure and shipping. There is an amazing amount of damage you can do to a pressurized well head or transfer casing with a .50 round and the castings are NOT CHEAP OR QUICK to replace.

    … [With enough of these types of weapons,] entire units will be vulnerable to top attack and it will only require a skilled shooter (or a BORS type sight) to allow single units, under cover, (something say a mortar cannot do) to inflict very heavy attrition once something like an IED stops everybody to deal with the wounded and damaged vehicles. Indeed, it is theoretically possible to replace radio detonation of explosives by using AMR/SPR to ‘remote activate’ plastic or caps in an environment of heavy jamming or network blackouts.

    Qods Force and IRGC have always been clear on their strategic vision for Iraq. Create maximum pain for the Great Satan at minimum cost. Impress on all Arabs that going along with Americans gets you a pile of body parts and a disrupted, disintegrating society. Bombs exploding everwhere, with al-Jazeera pre-positioned for maximum effect. Sunni, Shi’ia, Kurd: for now, it’s all good. Once Bush has squandered what’s left and the Democrats are back in the saddle, then will come the time for the Expediency Council to correctly choose its Iraqi allies and properly arrange Iraqi society. For now, all are welcome to play, and all are entitled to shaped-charge and 50-caliber toys.

  • RJ says:

    This game is already over. Missiles and long range sniper rifles, coupled with high explosives, specially shaped charges…time to take Bagdad, street by street? You’re the batter, doesn’t the coach try to teach you to get ahead of the ball, beginning with the pitcher? With Sadr hiding in Iran, Obama labeling our dead soldiers: “wasted” lives– all we need now is a story on MSNBC showing our troops “handing out leafets” informing residents that “sweeps of their neighborhood” are coming! Maybe we should find some Russian veterans of Stalingrad to talk to us about urban warfare and the “will to win!” What has our government done with those smallpox vaccines…might be time to line up!

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I can’t stress this enough. Please save the media bashing and political insults for other sites. And remain somewhat on topic. I’m getting close to shutting down the comments again.

  • RJ says:

    Whoops, sorry. Ok, let’s get our people up tight with our Iraqi counterparts to go deep into those neighborhoods where the snipers brag to their fellow brothers how their new weapons will “do the trick” on Americans. Nail them sooner, rather than later. Also, our snipers have been trained to locate others who employ the “big guns” on our boys. Not to worry, we’ve got a plan for this already in place. That’s how we’ve gotten this story in the press, we’ve already captured one from a dead sniper. No problem, our boys knew this was coming.

  • Drazen Gemic says:

    This article has something to do with that, I guess.
    Steyr-Mannlicher is mentioned explicitly.

  • mark says:

    Sorry about the media bashing Bill.
    Is it true or not true that General Pace says there is “no evidence” of Iran helping insurgents in Iraq? This is what the media is reporting and it seems to be out of context to me. Am I missing something? Is there a reason there isn’t agreement in the mil/intel community on this or are Pace’s comments being mischaracterized?

  • Kenneth says:

    What Pace said was something like, we have clear evidence the weapons are coming from Iran, and while we don’t have direct evidence this is by the orders of the Iranian gov’t, we believe they are involved.
    Obviously, the MSM can’t run with that! So they twisted it all around.

  • greg says:

    This is getting hard to take. First, why not offer a $1 million reward to anyone who gives info that leads to one of these sniper rifles. It would be a bargain for us to get as many as possible off the streets. Also, we need an imediate embargo on ANY weapons sales to Iran. Any country that refuses loses all access to U.S markets. We need a seal team or something like that to blow up one of Iran’s oil export terminals. For any escalation on Iran’s part we destroy more of their economy – no invasion just punish the hell out of them and try to do it covertly but send thier leaders a clear message that their game is over.

  • Toad says:

    Why is it this hasn’t been more publicized in the stuff that has hit the news in the last couple of days? We see pictures of machined IED components and mortars that could have been bought and paid for by well funded terrorists perhaps without approval of the Iranian leaders, however, the disbursement of these rifles is about as clear as it can get that Iran is directly equipping the terrorists in Iraq with weapons to be used on U.S. troops. Am I missing something?

  • Patrick says:

    So,why is Khameini still alive?

  • Tom W. says:

    Blog comment sections aren’t as informative as they were in the past. If you shut yours down, it won’t be a big loss. This isn’t your fault; it’s the quality of the commenters.
    An argument could be made that you’d be helping the war effort by shutting down your comments, given all the “Game over, man!” defeatism that so many commenters insist on posting. Every one of these comments helps our enemies.
    Americans are too ignorant of history to compare this generally successful counterinsurgency against, say, the failed French efforts in Algeria or the failed Soviet efforts in Afghanistan. That’s why you hear so much childish whining about how bad things are. Americans also don’t understand how important it is to present a united front to our enemies. It’s more important to bloviate and vent.
    The more people spread their message of defeat, the more likely it is that the message will take root, so if you shut down your comments section, I wouldn’t miss it.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    There’s a little too much temptation to call things before they actually play out. OK there’s way too much temptation. All sides have to watch that they don’t over indulge their take on events. Don’t over do it folks, there will be plenty of chances to differ over views on how things are going or likely to go.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    I remain a supporter of getting this sort of information out in the public. In the long run I still think it helps build a picture of what is going on. I would say keep dropping the crumbs of information, someone is going to pick them up. It does rub me that this is being played as a confrontational escalation on the part of the administration. I think most of us saw that one coming a mile off. I would maintain that the administration does not intend any sort of direct escalation against Iran. From here on out, a lot of what the US does will be a reaction to what is being done against us. If we have somehow decided that we cannot react or even give out information about what is going on, than we are in quite a bind.

  • RJ says:

    This blog offers great information, a seriousness of intent and a commitment to clarity. Is Tom W. an elite pseudo intellectual when he derides comments that may go to a societal overview? Those who comment do so as a result of such energies. I dare say we who might from time to time express negative emotions do so in response to the pains encountered with all the stories and slanting Americans are reading, hearing and seeing every day. Maybe (T.) we could compare our DD-214s at some point in time. I want to win this war on terror, period!

  • Neo-andertal says:

    In the above comment I was referring to the governments continued need to get out information, not our need. I thought I should clarify, since it seems to be getting a little personal around here.
    The sense of aggravation is unanimous, but that wasn’t my point.

  • ed wilson says:

    AMac: Please give me the specifics on our loss of 6 sniper qualified soldiers in one engagement. If you’re talking about an IED please be specific. As far as I know we’ve never lost that many qualified guys.

  • Johan W says:

    I do find it odd that the US presentation of the other weapons does not seem to have included these. Hopefully this is simply due to poor PR management. The US Military really does need to hire itself some media and political consultants adept at pushing the message. The whole way these weapons revelations have been handled has been inept – a very strong case has been made weak through poor presentation and media management.
    Even so these guns will have serial numbers which can be traced to the sale. As they were directly purchased by the Iranian government and within 45 days start showing up in Iraq this should be a slam dunk case. The US is heavily occupied on the ground , but it is not very heavily occupied in the Air.
    I think rather than rattling the saber to the world, the appeal should be made direct to Iranians. The message should go something like:
    “We have no great wish to harm the ancient civilisation of Persia, and we would wish the Persian people a prosperous and stable future, in a propserous and stable region, but the shadow that lies accross that future comes from the tyrants that rule the Persians today and have embarked on a reckless policy of confrontation with us, and as the provocations offered mount it can only be a matter of time before the camels back breaks. (provide a detailed list of Iranian provocations against the US going back to the revolution if need be).
    We do not have the means nor the wish to invade your country, and have no designs on your territory. This unfortunately means that when the reckless policies of your rulers push us to the point where our patience expires entirely and we are left with no more choices to respond to such provocations your country will face a terrible rain of ruin from the air that will not cease until your rulers desist entirely from their policies of confrontation with us. You know your rulers, and how little they care for your welfare – it is most regrettably you who will who be caught in the terrible aftermath that will result from these reckless policies. We urge you to find some way to make your rulers desist from such a path towards catastrophe whilst there is still time to do so. On such a basis can a future built on mutual respect and in peace be built, the alternative is not something we want to do, but if forced upon us be assured that our will is equal to the terrible task we will accomplish from necessity.”
    Find a way to get such a message into every Iranian home.

  • BobK says:

    AMac: Please give me the specifics on our loss of 6 sniper qualified soldiers in one engagement. If you’re talking about an IED please be specific. As far as I know we’ve never lost that many qualified guys.
    A couple years back I believe in Faluja or ramadi a Marine team was found dead on a roof top nest. Maybe that is the reference. If so it was long before these rifles come along.

  • Michael says:

    Question for those who know. Can this weapon be utilized for shooting down of helicoptors?
    Austria-Iran-Iraqi terrorist/militia.
    I’m very angry that nothing is being said by our leaders and government to the Austrian government.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Any weapon can be used to down an Aircraft.
    Some are just more effective then others.
    A rock into the turbine blades can cause the engine to stall or (if rock solid enough) the blades can disintegrate.
    When that happens the fragments are like an oversized frag grenade going off in the engine compartment (it is called FOD in aviation parliance)…
    CH46 confirmed down by enemy fire.
    Some of the toys shown on Sunday also in today’s brief. Include Mortar round uniq in design to Iran.
    Sadr confirmed left Iraq last month.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Actually, Chew, I asked Major General Caldwell this question this morning in a press conference. He confirmed the Iranian sniper rifles were indeed in Iraq. Is that official enough for you?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Would you recognize the serial numbers if they were given to you? Do you think this was the other batch of Steyr 50 cals sold by another country? My guess is you would move the goalposts if the information was given to you.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Chew, the military is saying this is from the Austrian batch. You canbet they are using the serial numbers, but then again, how many Steyr .50 did Iran import from outside Austria? Is it in the best interest of intelligence to divulge all means used to determine the information? You can believe them, or not.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    As I said, MG Caldwell answered the question in the affirmative today. The DoD will post a transcript at some point in time. You can hold your breath for the major media to pick it up, or not. That is your choice.

  • AMac says:

    As Bill wrote as the last line of this post,

    In today’s politicized environment, intelligence must now meet the evidence standards of a criminal case.

    BobK, I believe I can find a cite for the lost sniper team mentioned by ch1466, the person I excerpted at 2/13/07 11:35am.

  • AMac says:

    BobK, here is a CNN story from Aug. 2, 2005 describing that incident.

    BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Six sniper team members were among seven Marines whose deaths in northwestern Iraq were announced Tuesday by U.S. commanders, bringing the number of American troops killed in the war to more than 1,800.

    Five of the snipers died Monday during an insurgent attack on a patrol outside Haditha, according to a Marine Corps news release. The body of a sixth was discovered later a few miles away. All were killed by small-arms fire, the Marines said…

  • Astuga says:

    Myself beeing from Austria I`am really pissed that “we” delivered them to Iran at all!
    But having said this the argument in austrian media goes that these rifles may be not the real thing but replicas (China?), as the US has not reported the serial numbers of the rifles found, and those numbers should be known.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    It was a press conference for bloggers, not the media press conference. I did not see a link to it, but I haven’t looked either.


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