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Daraa rebels may be using US-made heavy weapons

MADE IN THE USA?: The weapon used in this video […]

14 April 2014

MADE IN THE USA?: The weapon used in this video appears to be a US-made BGM-71 TOW rather than another anti-tank system such as the Chinese HJ-8, which is believed to have appeared in Syria in recent months, according to online commentary on Sunday from analysts closely tracking the war and its weapons.

Opposition activists released video footage Sunday showing fighters from the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) in Daraa using what appears to be an American-made missile system to destroy a tank belonging to the Syrian army’s 52nd Tank Division.

“It’s the sight that gives it away,” posted Charles Lister, a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, on Twitter Sunday, adding that the tank is “totally different to HJ-8 and no way anything of old Soviet stock.”

Another reason the tank could be American made, Lister tweeted, is that “US-made TOW anti-tank missiles now seen in hands of 3 groups in the north and south of #Syria, safe to say this is important.”

“I think this could actually be a TOW, it doesn’t match the HJ-8,” tweeted Eliot Higgins, a Britain-based analyst who runs the influential Brown Moses blog that tracks weapons use throughout Syria.

“The Omri Brigade targets a tank from the 52nd Division with an anti-armor missile,” says a rebel fighter holding a camera in the video’s foreground, as a second fighter fires a missile toward the tank.

Sunday’s video follows the emergence of three videos earlier this month showing fighters from rebel group Harakat Hazm using the same American made TOW system, marking the first time such weapons appeared in Syria.

Charles Lister wrote last week that the new videos suggest “that a state sponsor is supplying [rebels] with a new type of guided missile system,” noting that both Saudi Arabia and Turkey—two of the Syrian opposition’s staunchest international backers—have received these weapons from the United States.

With the emergence of Sunday’s video in Daraa, these heavy weapons have now appeared in the hands of two moderate rebel groups affiliated with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, in the northern province of Idlib and the southern province of Daraa.

In February of this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia had agreed to furnish Syrian rebel groups with heavy weaponry including antitank missiles, but it remains unclear whether—and to what extent—these transactions were borne out.

Video courtesy of Abu Siraj al-Lija.

-April 14, 2014

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