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The Challenge of Heavy Weapons in Iraq and Syria

The Challenge of Heavy Weapons in Iraq and Syria

Business Insider published an interesting article last week detailing many of the heavy weapons captured by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There has been a lot of discussion on how to help Kurdish forces and other opposition forces in the fight against ISIS. One of their most notable and consistent requests has been for help Western weapons systems that are strong enough to neutralize these advanced weapons.

Many of the heavy systems possessed by ISIS are common Cold War Soviet client state kit. It is estimated that they now are operating approximately 30 T-55 tanks, 15 T-62 tanks, six BRDM-2s, two MT-LBs, 20 BMP-1s, some ZSU-23-2 mobile anti-aircraft artillery and two ZSU-23-4 anti-aircraft systems. The ones that pose the biggest threat to the local opposition and Western powers are captured Humvees, three 2S1 artillery systems, 10 T-72 tanks, anti-aircraft shoulder-launched systems (e.g., the Stinger and Russian SA-16 and Strela-2), and Russian- and Chinese-made BM-21 class multiple rocket launch systems. Field artillery and anti-tank rockets are also present, with the RPG-7 being the most common anti-tank rocket being used in the region.

There is a limited amount of information on captured weapons systems — usually they are only seen in combat — so it’s possible there are others. A few weeks ago, a helicopter was downed by a Chinese-made anti-aircraft system; it’s also likely that ISIS has captured some Iraqi M1 Abrams.

The Syrian army is in possession of many Soviet systems and has been supplied with newer weapons from Russia since the beginning of the conflict. While T-55 tanks and BMP-1s will be fodder for Syrian army T-72s, it’s possible some of their systems have been captured by ISIS, and it’s unlikely the regime would alert the public of these captured systems. In the event ISIS has captured some modern Russian systems, weapons like the 2S4 Tulypan, the world’s heaviest artillery system, or the TOS-1 heavy fire system could be used in a horrific manner laying siege to towns in the region. A captured anti-aircraft system like the SA-6 KUB or the SA-11 BUK would pose a huge threat to the limited air strikes by coalition forces in areas protected by these systems.

At the moment, the 1970s materiel in ISIS’ possession would have limited capabilities against Western forces on the ground; however, as the assistance going to the Kurds and other forces doesn’t include heavy weapons systems, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for those allies in the region to defend against the direct expulsion and death of their communities in Iraq and Syria. Accepting the reality of the situation should have been learned by the international community in Rwanda. Allowing another Rwanda is unacceptable by any legal or moral standards.



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration