Islamic State revels in Palmyra victory amidst looted tons of weapons, ammunition

An Islamic State fighter tours a captured aircraft hanger containing up to one dozen surface-to-air missiles in a photo released on Tuesday.  

 

AMMAN: The Islamic State (IS) has reportedly captured what appears to be tons of weapons and ammunition in two recent battlefield victories against regime forces in eastern Syria, according to IS statements and photographs.

The captured spoils–tanks, fighting and transport vehicles, small arms, anti-tank guided missiles, air-to-surface missiles, small-arm and cannon ammunition–come from three sites: The storehouses and military airport in and around Palmyra, and a second location, as-Sawanah, a reported regime missile battalion located 44km southwest of the historic town in Homs province.

Open Syria reviews what the Islamic State won at Palmyra, identifying and listing captured ammunition and weapons, based on IS photographs, communications and social media. We also examine as-Sawanah, the site of a regime battalion on the Palmyra-Damascus highway looted by IS last weekend, though not as publicized as the Palmyra victory.

Most of what we know about IS spoils of war at both locations comes from IS fighter and media statements. Minor small-arms and explosives caches aside, Open Syria has found only a few photographs of captured weapons and ammunition. This seems incongruous, as IS often boasts of captured guns, ammunition and prisoners of war in lavish video and photo reports.

Palmyra

The plunder at the Palmyra military airport and open-air weapons depot reportedly includes hangers of ammunition and air-to-surface missiles, hundreds of crates of ammunition, tens of tanks, transport and fighting vehicles, a variety of anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) systems, and thousands of assault rifles, heavy machine guns and assorted ammunition.

At the Palmyra airport, IS captured at least one hanger and store room containing tens of small-arms ammunition crates, and what appear to be at least twelve Kh-28/AS-9 ‘Kyle’ air-to-surface missiles. Photos of the ammunition and weapons cache first appeared on Twitter on Tuesday.

 

The weapons captures above may have occurred at any of the many aircraft hangers at the Palmyra airport, visible here in satellite imagery at 34°33'35"N 38°18'57"E. Source: Digital Globe, IS. Available on Twitter. 2015.

The photographed missiles appear to be ‘Kh-28/AS-9 ‘Kyle’ air-to-surface missiles. As an insurgent army without an air force, the Islamic State may not deploy the captured air-to-surface missiles as designed. However, the Syrian opposition has been known to re-purpose air-to-air missiles for surface-to-surface attacks, albeit ineffectively. IS may also scavenge missile warheads to build more vehicle-born suicide IEDs. Source: IS. Available on Twitter. 2015. Hat tip to @TirpitzHipster for identifying the unique Kh-28/As-9 Kyle ASM crate. 

In addition to ammunition and air-to-surface missiles, IS captured towed artillery at the Palmyra airport, including at least one 57mm AZP S-60 anti-aircraft artillery piece and two 130 mm M-46 M1954 field guns.

 

Two 130 mm M-46 M1954 field guns at a hanger in the Palmyra airport. Source: IS. Available on Twitter. 2015.

One 57mm AZP S-60 anti-aircraft gun, at Palmyra. Source: IS. Available on Twitter. 2015.

Before capturing Palmyra on May 20, IS reportedly struck and won an open-air regime weapons and ammunition depot approximately 8.1km to the ancient town’s northwest.

One IS fighter, perhaps near the open-air weapons depot, stands by tens of stacked ammunition crates in a photo tweeted May 14. There are as many as 20 stacks of ammunition and weapons crates discernible at this location in area satellite imagery.

 

IS reportedly captured an open-air weapons depot approximately 8.1km northwest of Palmyra, where as many as 20 ammunition crate stacks are discernible in satellite imagery. Sources: Digital Globe, IS. Available on Twitter. 2015.

A WhatsApp message, sent by an IS fighter to an unknown contact on May 21, lists the ammunition crates, photographed above, in addition to 21 tanks, 24 light and transport vehicles, 12,000 machine guns–and a reported 800 regime prisoners–all captured at Palmyra.

 

[Message translation]:

“Spoils of the #Islamic_State in #Palmyra:

40 ammunition stores

12,000 machine guns

21 tanks

14 4x4 pickups

10 transport vehicles

Millions of small-arm rounds

Pulverized more than 500 Nusairis, including 15 high-ranking officers

Up until now, about 800 Nusairi prisoners”

The above war chest broadly corresponds to a series of tweets from a now-defunct IS account commenting on the battle for Palmyra, released on JustPaste.it this past Sunday, included in part below.

Firstly, the tweets comment on the capture of the Palmyra weapons depot, photographed above.

 

[Approximate translation]:

“The Palmyra weapons depot, liberated by the brothers in less than an hour, [contains] a massive quantity of ammunition, including:

Tons of ammunition, tank shells, weapons and heavy machine guns, heat-seeking missiles, surface-to-surface missiles, tanks and vehicles.

The Nusairis fled, leaving behind, thanks be to God, an inestimable quantity of ammunition…”

 

The tweet collection later lists advanced ATGM systems, such as the Kornet, Konkurs, Milan and MBT LAW.

 

[Translation of line three]:

“Spoils of the blessed conquest:

Tanks, 14, 23 and 57mm heavy cannons, DShK [heavy machine guns], Konkurs, Kornet, Milan and LAW [anti-tank guided] missiles and assorted machines.”

If indeed IS captured these arms in quantity, it will prove formidable against regime armor, regularly defeated by advanced NATO- and Russian-made ATGM systems.

 

As-Sawanah

IS reportedly captured As-Sawanah on Saturday, a town home to a regime base on the Palmyra-Damascus highway, approximately 44km southwest of Palmyra. IS subsequently released a photograph of dozens of crates of 23mm ammunition, taken at a regime missile base and storage unit about 2km northwest of as-Sawanah.

Together with guns and ammunition taken at Palmyra, IS now likely owns tons of new weapons, ammunition and war machines.

Following the Palmyra-area victories, Open Syria visited jihadi forums and combed through IS accounts looking for hints about their next move. For a group that regularly vaunts its conquests and intentions on social media, it is not yet clear whether the spoils will simply replenish the Islamic State’s inventory or fuel new conquests beyond Palmyra.

 

IS reportedly captured dozens of 23mm ammunition crates at the as-Sawanah missile battalion. This picture was posted on Twitter on May 23. Together with the reported spoils of Palmyra, IS likely now possesses tons of new weapons and ammunition. Source: Digital Globe, the Islamic State. Available on Twitter.

Joseph Adams

Joseph was a 2013-2014 Boren Fellow in Arabic based in Amman, Jordan and is the founder of Open Syria. He holds BA and MS degrees in political science from UCLA and MIT, and is an MA degree candidate in Arabic at Middlebury College.