Analysis of Wilayat Sinai: The ISIS Tentacle in Egypt

Table of contents

1.       Who and where is Wilayath Sinai?

a.      History

b.      Geography

2.      Wilayath Sinai: Structure

a.       Organization

b.      Armament

c.       Propaganda and others

d.      Training

3.      Wilayath Sinai: Military Elements

a.       Snipers, the elite forces of WS

b.      Technicals

c.       IEDs, SVBIEDs and mines

d.      Light infantry quality

e.       Armoured force

f.        ATGMs

g.       MANPADs

4.      Wilayath Sinai: Combat Operations

a.       Ambushes, assaults and selective targeting

b.      Assaults and other type of combats

                                                              i.      Operation A – Raid after the VBIED

                                                             ii.      Operation B – Tank recovery

                                                           iii.      Operation C – Assault on a location

                                                           iv.      Operation D – RPG ambush

                                                             v.      Operation E – RPG-7 attack

                                                           vi.      Operation F – Gang style attacks

c.       AA operations

d.      Hiding and timing

5.      Wilayath Sinai: Economy

6.      Abu Osama al-Masri, hidden in the footages?

First of all I would like to thanks Victor Lledo (@victorlledo) for help me to translate this very long article. Secondly I would also like to thanks (@NoorNahas1) and Mohamed Mansour (@Mansourtalk) for their kind colaboration.

Edited on june 2017.

 Who and where is Wilayath Sinai?

History

Wilayat Sinai, literally Sinai Province, is the branch of Daesh in Egypt, and especially the Sinai peninsula, their home-base. The group was formed on November 2014 when they pledged allegiance to ISIL, before that they were known as Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, what means Supporters of the Holy House in reference to Jersualem.

But the roots of this organization go back to 2004 and they are closely related to Al Qaeda and also to a publication from that year called Idarat Al-Tawahush (Management of Savagery) that publication advocated to provoke Egyptian security forces into taking disproportionate actions against them, rising sympathies from among Muslims worldwide and local populations building good press for the jihadists.  While the publication is somehow dated, it is widely assumed that it had a big impact on jihadi groups in the Sinai from 2004 until now and certainly fits very well with typical violent strategies used since then by ISIS in Iraq, Syria, Libya or Yemen. It also did stablish that their final goal would be to size large areas and effectively control them as an Islamic State, as a Caliphate.

The amount of troops under their command range from 500 to 1.200 soldiers, however it is sure that the civilian supporting network is much bigger and especially among the Arab tribes from the area.

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Logo of Wilayath Sinai

Geography

It is important to take into account the special characteristics of the Sinai peninsula.

The population living in the peninsula can be estimated around 0,6 millions from wich 420.000 would be in the North and 165.000 would be in the South, generally speaking the Sinai is a low populated and poor region with most of the wealth concentrated in the maritime and land routes at the north.

But the peninsula is a hub for the legal and illegal trade, especially that of weapons, drugs and persons.  Smuggling and traffic is a trade that usually, and historically,  moves from the South and West,  from countries like Somalia, Libya or Sudan with the ultimate goal to reach Gaza, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and others.

Obviously seizing power and exerting control over these activities is important for any aspiring jihadi or criminal group and can be very important for the self-sustainment of the Wilayat Sinai. Therefore it is also strategically and morally important for ISIS and other jihadi groups that might be able to establish supply routes thanks to the lack of control of the peninsula by Egyptian authorities.

Also the human landscape is pretty complex because we are facing a long standing tradition of rebelliousness and a divided society with a rich North and a poor South divide, an area invaded by Israel during its wars against Egypt, a government power structure and also a high number of Bedouin tribes and finally a relevant number of foreigners dealing in dark businesses related to criminal and terrorist activities adding fuel to an explosive situation and bringing in the influence, ideas and power structure of foreign jihadi groups.

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The tribal configuration of Sinai favors jihadi operations

This map shows the population density and the differences between the Sinai and Egypt’s North. It also shows the differences between North and the South of the Sinai peninsula.

The terrain and geography is highly complex and well suited for guerrilla tactics.

The peninsula is surrounded on the West by the Suez Canal and the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba on the East. Most of the territory is a very dry desertic area with big plains at the north (A1) and a difficult area with lots of elevations and depressions excavated by frequent flash floods (A2) finally, the Southern area is characterized by an extremely rough, abrupt, and mountainous terrain (A3).

 

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Wilayath Sinai structure

Organization

Most of WS attacks in the Sinai have taken place near the Rafah border crossing near Gaza where it is thought that ISIS has some supporters, this is probably because when Ansar Beit Al Maqdis pledged alliance to ISIL they split in various groups, but mainly they became WS and Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade which operates in Gaza area. The whole North-Eastern coastal area of the Sinai can be considered the most active area for WS this entails a certain degree of  complicity with the tribes in that area which are the Tarabin and the Sawarka, however we are sure that the best suited terrain to establish static or temporal central HQs camps are on the Southern A2 and A3 map areas because the lack of population and roughness of the terrain is just perfect for that, however those areas are at a distance from WS area of influence so there they should have some logistical and back up infrastructure at least.

We must take in to account the general situation of guerrilla and terrorist groups fighting against their own State and against the International Community, this requires a high degree of decentralization to allow the “top echelon” of the organization to survive, however  a level of decentralization too high can lead to internal tensions because of the lack of instructions or a clear leadership, so for WS the target should have been to create a good balance between a decentralized organization divided in highly self-sufficient cells and an effective and uncontested but protected leadership.

In order to achieve that the most likely option would be to divide the main military operations area under influence areas where every subgroup is also divided in other cells, every cell would be charged to prepare small scale operations, get local support and resources and get intelligence or recruit forces.

At the same time the central HQs would be the ones tasked to maintain a true link with global ISIS leaders to get the scarce resources which they could bring them or even to coordinate certain terrorist and propaganda actions. Also the central HQs of the group should be charged to maintain high-level meetings with other terrorist or criminal groups and with important tribal members, key finance moves, especially to buy and sell weaponry and other kind of goods and to directly plan the “large campaigns” or important operations in the Sinai.

The most pressured area by far is the northeastern part of the Sinai, and especially around the cities of Al Arish and Rafah near the border with Gaza, this suggests a clear core of local support, after all their leader comes from a well known family of Al-Arish and even him and his father are thought to have links with Hamas in Gaza.

From our point of view a very interesting element indeed is their propaganda ability,  close to the prowess of  ISIS in Iraq and Syria what suggests that some knowledge could have been shared and sometimes even it is possible that WS send its own material to the proficient ISIS editors to lately publish it and so providing a high sensation of centralization and a truly working Caliphate, something which probably is not much else of a mirage because the true links between ISIS and its Sinai province can not be so big in so far they are pushed into secrecy.

We believe that WS has local subgroups at certain parts of the north Sinai while there are still some units with their own special character and training which are probably under the direct command of the central leadership who decides where to use them. It is here where the best snipers, ATGM and MANPAD operators, propaganda units, recoilless rifles, IED/SVBIED and maybe mortar units operate, including also a significant network of civilian supporters providing refuge, supplies, repairs and vital intelligence and information for WS operations.

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WS SPG-9 73 mm recoilless rifle.

What is sure is that they have a network of small non inhabited logistic depots in the desert, they are carefully hidden to pass unnoticed to air and ground surveillance, for that reason they build small parking lots for cars that are carefully camouflaged to resemble local vegetation patterns, or use small warehouses painted with desert colors in the middle of nowhere to hide small things like explosives, IEDs, weapons, ammunitions, oil, or other artifacts.

Sometimes they also have small compounds in the middle of the desert with “villas” ready to be used as safe houses with living rooms, garages, a pantry to hide supplies, and even depots and workshops to produce IEDs or VBIEDs those places can be a good indicative of the local support to their cause and even sometimes they could have been provided by local supporters.

They are self-sufficient, even for safety reasons, for example along several inspections Egyptian forces found a small solar panel, and several arc welders, most likely used to produce IEDs or DIY mounts for the technicals, anyway the electricity consumption could alert authorities because it means that somebody is consuming a lot of electricity in the middle of the desert, so being self-sufficient helps to hide themselves. The use of tunnels is also pretty common.

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Solar panel.
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On the photo of the left upper corner you can appreciate 4 welders by electricity used to produce IEDs.
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Hidden parking lot. The food on the soil indicates that it has been recently abandoned.

All in all we can assess that they probably have a very important tribal and rural support in the North Eastern desert where they are able to hide small depots and compounds ready to be used as safe houses with production, living and provision capabilities, also the rural support gives them a good possibility for recruitment, training and gathering of intelligence in the desert areas.

Also inside the cities, and especially Arish, Sheikh Zuwaid and Rafah they have a high degree of local support, which provides them with intelligence, small depots and better options for economical, communications and political opportunities.

Their ability to take advantage of their local support has been remarkable and allowed them to hit Egyptian forces in the area however their fortress is their weakness because they do not seem to be able to expand their military strength to other parts of the Sinai maybe because of the own inter-tribal tensions, however their terrorist activity extends through all of Egypt but we can not fully assess if this is due to WS or to other ISIS or AQ branches.

Another point to stress is that their audacity levels are increasing with time which shows an increasing level of self-confidence thanks to the local support, this has produced some propaganda depictions which may have some grounding in reality like ostentation of their big convoys through populated areas sometimes with even more than 13 cars in spite of the risks like being betrayed or to encounter with Egyptian security forces.

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Armament

From the point of view of the light weaponry they tend to use typical AKs, like AK-47, AKM, AKMS or their copies from a a high number of different countries, also we have rarely seen FN FALs probably from the 50.00 version and a small number of AK-74s, Hungarian AMD-65s and Yugoslavian AK based assault rifles wich differ from the original ones in the length of their barrel. Also we saw what looks like a Beretta AR 70/90 on hands of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis.

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This photo is a good resume of most of the light weapons in their hands.

The medium machine guns are PK or their copies most times the Chinese version called Type 80 and even the coaxial variant called PKT.

The sniper rifles tend to be semiautomatic Soviet SVD Dragunovs or Romanian PSLs and the Austrian anti-materiel HS.50 while also a few American M24s.

The HMGs tend to be 12,7 mm DShKMs, 12,7 mm M2 Browning of various versions and 14,5 mm KPVs and even a  Chinese QJG-02G.  HMGs are mounted on technicals or used with tripods.

Their fire support comes from mortars of different calibers, especially 60 mm Helwan an Egyptian copy of the Chinese Type 63 mortar, also we have documented that they captured a few M1938 Soviet 120 mm mortars but at the moment WS has preferred to use 60 mm mortars because of their easy transport and concealment possbilities. They also have a few Soviet 122 mm OF-21 and 107 mm artillery rockets used to bomb Israel.

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In the anti-armor role they tend to use a huge amount of IEDs of different loads against the different targets (MBTs, IFVs, APCs, MRAPs…), RPG-7s with PG-7VM warheads and the powerful Russian 9M133 Kornet ATGM also we have seen a few SPG-9s and one 9M111 Fagot used for training.

Also a rare technical carefully deployed by the group has a Swiss 25 mm automatic Oerlikon KBA gun probably taken from a YPR-765A1 captured to the Egiptian Army.

The armored forces of Wilayah are pretty small and also their ability to use their scarce vehicles for long periods is weak due to the lack of spare parts, ammunition, oil consumption or training but at the moment there are images of one YPR-765A1 which is a Dutch version of the American AIFV, itself an upgraded variant of the M-113 with better armor and a 25 mm automatic gun and a 7,62 mm coaxial machine gun driven by the group after its capture.

The other vehicle is the jewel of the crown, a M-60A1 with a TTS sight complex that was captured along the YPR to the 2nd Field Army, 2nd Corp, 16th Mechanized Division.

The IEDs are very common ranging from those designed to kill troops in the open to the ones designed to destroy tanks or lightly armored vehicles, they also have the ability to produce VBIEDs, however they are less common and not as sophistacated as those from the ISIS heartland. Among IEDs they also have mines and at least one Czech PP Mi Sr “bouncing Betty”.

Finally there are proofs showing that they have been able to get a certain amount of MANPADs, to be more precise from the Strela-2 family but most of them might not have bateries to make them work.

Propaganda and others

When Ansar Beit Al Maqdis pledged alliance to ISIS something changed in their way they present themselves to the world, since that day they have vastly improved their propaganda apparatus that now is truly part of the powerful ISIS media network.

It is likely that at times the propaganda material is sent to ISIS media HQs to be edited and released for WS what would explain the high quality of their propaganda that suddenly evolved when they became part of ISIS, also it is possible that they got advice and maybe even proffesionals to do the job.

For example we have seen that they have at least a recording team with two cameramen that stay with WS during its actions, also we conclude that they are not fully dedicated to record as they are fully armed.

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Two cameras, the one that took the photo and the man on the left.
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Same situation as in the upper image

Also their way of presenting their videos is the same as ISIS and their propaganda looks to be centralized but specialized in their region by accusing Egyptian forces of diverse attrocities and unjustices while they show themselves as the saviors of the people by helping the population and letting the children come on them.

From what can be seen in one of their videos where an instructor who was teaching characteristics of ATGMs and MANPADs we were able to see that the computer was always disconnected from internet and that it had a common and free security program called “True Crypt” depending on Microsoft and whose active life ended on 5/2014 and they even advice the customers to migrate it to Bit Locker, as we can see on the clock of the computer the image was taken on 2015 so the program arguably installed to protect certain information is just outdated. These types of programs help to hide and protect certain documents that the user might want to protect.

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This is the image, the key looking down is the “True Crypt” and the clock at the corner on the left marks 2015.

In the “Islamic Caliphate” every Wilhayat has a governor, of course in the case of those provinces where ISIS is a hidden group the governors are just nominal charges, however in their target of establish a Caliphate sometimes they execute propaganda actions with the aim of show themselves as something else to than a guerrilla group, however it is true that those propagandistic actions have a point of truth and show that at least they exert certain control in some areas that allow them to feel they safe enough to appear in the middle of a location with their combat suit and their AKs giving sweets to the children or establishing armed controls with technicals in a secondary road or showing some kind of bureaucracy with papers with the stamp of ISIS.

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All this images show a certain level of penetration of ISIS among some places and must worry a lot to the Egyptian governor in the Sinai as far as it shows a small but ambitious and matching power in the region.

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Emblem used by WS propaganda media.

Training

While sometimes there is a important difference in quality between units of WS, most times they show an acceptable level of training in basic infantry tactics, something not commonly seen in MENA, however the important differences between the units in our opinion proves that there is a decentralized recruitment or training or at least different levels of trainings among WS subunits.

We have been able to ascertain that they do common basic exercises like walk with the equipment in column through the desert, and also they train in typical obstacles like the bars.

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Also we think that they get a good training to manage MMGs, HMGs and assault rifles and they have done some practice and learn some shooting essentials, but the designated marksman and sniper units really stands out and seems to have done an extensive training with specialist shooting practice, camouflage and infiltration techniques.

Shooting practices as in the case of the snipers is undertaken in makeshift temporary ranges or at least in exremelly poor and hasty locations. We can know about this thanks to the kind of targets and the infrastructure at use, for example we can see how they shoot at balloons, a “temporary” and easy to put target, this makes a lot of sense as far as the bigger the compound more possibilities to be recognised from above or from the ground.

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What is sure is that they have some kind of small training and / or teaching facilities because we have seen how they were taught in a sober room where there was sunlight meaning that it is on the surface, not underground, also the room had just chairs and the bare material to teach the “students” on marksmanship.

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Note how an open window on the right side let the sunlight come in the room proof that they are not underground, also the cable at the left of the door indicates that it could be connected to the Egyptian energy net.

By the way they were getting a first background about the most advanced, and complex weapons that the group operates, things like MANPADs and ATGMs, for example they had an inert 9M111 Fagot missile and its launcher and also a Kornet-E launcher with a 9M133-1 missile as we can see in the next image.

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Also as you can see they give relatively advanced theoretical lessons about the weapons.

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It must be said that the 9M133 Kornet is the most advanced Russian ATGM and it should be able to penetrate most, if not all of the best MBTs of the Egyptian army, but also the version 9M133-1 shown by the group is the most capable version of the Kornet.

It is also interesting to note how in one image the instructor is speaking about the M-60 Patton tank of the Egiptian army and he is appointing its weak spots, where AT projectiles must be aimed, the rear side of the hull where the engine and fuel are located, and the rear of the turret where the ammunition stores, as we can see in ISIS videos when using ATGMs they are doing exactly what it is taught in these images, as you can see in the following pictures.

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While this can just be appreciated in the video the missile hits the hull’s rear side or the turret causing an inmediate explosion that has probably destroyed tha tank and killed its crew.

Also the instructor has an inert and an active model of a Strela-2 one sitting on the stand and the other displayed on the wall, which looks a DIY mock up but gives still a good idea to teach as conventional armies do everywhere.

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Also having a closer look at WS MANPAD markings we can clearly see that at least one of them is a 9K32-M, also known as Strela-2B an improved version over the first Strela-2s.

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From bottom to top the third inscription indicates the “M” of the upgraded 9K32-M.

The instructor trains both for ATGMs and MANPADs, so it is likely that we are facing a veteran, an old member of the army or a jihadi who has received training outside.

Wilayath Sinai: Military Elements

Snipers, the elite units of WS

Most times sniper and designated marksman in non-State armies are inter-exchangeable roles depending on the nature of the mission, true snipers normally prefer bolt action rifles while designated marksman tend to use semiautomatic precision rifles. However while snipers can sometimes use semiautomatic precision rifles, designated marksmen rarely use bolt action rifles.

Also designated marksmen and snipers can support other military actions, like in an ambush, to hostigate lone military forces by killing one or two soldiers from the distace and get out of an area undetected is normally a mission for snipers.

During the first WS videos we saw the typical designated marksman / sniper units using semiautomatic Soviet SVD Dragunovs and Romanian PSLs both using the 7,62 x 54R cartridge, however and especially on 2017 we have seen a much more especialized role for sniper units, this time mainly using the Austrian HS. 50 antimaterial rifle with the powerful 12,7 x 99 cartridge.

About designated marksmen we have seen that sometimes they are attached to the forces of the first echelon to fulfil even a sharpshooter role, but less oftentimes they also have dedicated sharpshooter with powerful magnification scopes mounted on powerful assault rifles, like the FN FAL.

Rifles like the Dragunov with adequate magnification scopes and good training can accurately reach distances up to 600 metres and even up to 800 metres with some luck in certain aspects of the rifle and the shooter, while rifles like the  HS.50 can reach distances  up to 1,5 km.  However, lacking of proper training and practice most guerrilla groups fail to exploit the maximum range of these weapons.

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For MENA standards a rifle like this semiautomatic PSL can serve for sniper and designated marksman purposes.
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WS spotter with binoculars, ghillie suit and an AKMS.

While the propaganda of WS may understate these issues it is true that we also see a high degree of profficiency, for example in the video released on April 2017 we saw how they were using “ghillie” camouflage suit,  relatively complex but effective one, at the same time they moved in fire teams of two soldiers, the sniper and the spotter, the last one with binoculars to provide measures to aim at the target, also they chose a well concealed position, usually aiming at the back of the observation towers where an infiltration is unexpected and so it is very difficult to locate the source of fire and give adequate response.

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Ghillie suit, desertic coloured skin mask, HS.50 antimaterial rifle with tires added to prevent flashes, they are well trained.

Also while the sniper carries the weight of the weapon the observer holds an AKMS with retractable stock to provide extra defense in case of an unexpected engagement at close range, this suggests that these fire teams tend to act alone making just a few shots and getting out of their theatre of operations.

Also they use proper masking techniques to prevent flashes from the sun or other lights over the metal parts of the rifles or on the lens of the scopes, also sometimes they use a matt or blanket to stay more comfortably on it, which suggests that they stay a long periods of time in the same position,  a sign that they are not just “snipers” as most people tend to consider them but also and equally important, they are forward observers who may or may not shoot at the observed target.

In our opinion it is likely that they have done an intense shooting training program to get an acceptable level of accuracy and a high level of infiltraion abilities. For example in the next image we see that they are trained to quietly walk over the typical dry soil filled with some vegetation while at the same time observing the area a type of advance adopted in by Special Forces in certain terrain and situations.

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Technicals

As any guerrilla group in MENA WS has a huge amount of technicals, normally they are Toyotas that sometimes have weapons attached, in the case of WS they use to have a frontal shield and a M2, DShK or KPV HMG, but sometimes we have seen very rare models with Swiss 25 mm automatic Oerlikon KBA gun, SPG-9 recoilless rifles or even one Chinese 14,5 mm QJG-02G similar to the Soviet ZGU-1.

A normal Toyota without a weapon can carry one driver, a co-driver and seven fully armed troops at the back bed, three seated on each side while one stand up with a PK machine gun supported on the roof.

But probably along the force there is a logistic element ready to transport some extra material and / or ready to upload all the loot. Also most of the Toyotas have a common camouflage made by adding some sand and dust to the car, although it is very likely that some driving training or driving instructions are given to drive in column at high speeds or to adopt the best positions to use the weapons installed on the Toyotas.

From our point of view the most interesting technical is the one with the 25 mm Oerlikon, a vehicle that has been rarely deployed by WS but shows a high degree of adaptability behind this group.

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Technical with the 25 mm gun during a propagandistic road control in the Sinai.
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Another point of view of the 25 mm Oerlikon, note the DIY crosshair cleverly attached in front of the gunners sight.

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Maybe the most interesting feature that also shows the high level of technical thinking behind WS is that as we can see in the upper image there is an observer with binoculars who tells the gunner the corrections that have to be done to hit the target,  a good idea to aim a gun that normally would have been much more difficult to use in the battlefield, and that now thanks to this method of operation can be really effective, also sparing ammunition, something very important taking in to account the likely difficulties of WS to get 25 mm ammunition.

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IEDs, SVBIEDs and mines

IEDs are one of the most important tools of WS to provoke losses to the Egyptian security forces, they are used in different ways and they are designed against different targets.

We have seen IEDs used to destroy tanks, IFVs, APCs, MRAPs, unarmored military vehicles and even civilian ones with a high level of effectiveness, most times they are used in the same way as Iraqi insurgency against the U.S so they just try to blow them close to the target and get out of the area, but also a few times they are used to enhance ambush operations.

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Example of WS IED.

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Finally it is very interesting to note the use of small IEDs very well positioned and manualy activated to kill small groups of soldiers.

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The red circles indicate where the IED was placed

If WS propaganda reflects well their tactics we are sure that IED attempts are the most preferred operations of the jihadist, and the predictability of Egyptian forces plays an important role on IED attack effectiveness.

Also the amount of SVBIEDs used by WS is relatively low what suggests a low level of internationalization of the “Egyptian jihad” and also a predominant importance of the local conditions over other considerations.

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The use of VBIEDs is scarce, and we have seen typical terrorist vehicle-bomb attacks against security forces and a more tactical use of this weapon in a similar way as ISIS does in the battlefield, as the first mean to shock the defenders before the main force arrives in the middle of confusion to take the target.

Also Egyptian security forces during a raid captured a Czech PP-Mi-Šr mine with two RO-1 fuses installed, here is the image:

Screenshot_6
When the wire is cut it can not be stretched and so it can not detonate, that is the way to deactivate this kind of mine fuses.

This kind of mines come from the infamous German WWII mine “Bouncing Betty” (SMi-35) and they are designed to add different types of fuses for different purposes, int this case the fuses are RO-1, the “Y” shaped thing, it has two tensed wires attached to both detonators in two different directions, to cover a wide area and when someone passes and stretches it the priming mechanism is activated.

These kind of tripwire mines or IEDs are very effective, especially  when daisy chained against large convoys, they have the disadvantage that they can not be fully controlled once installed and so it is very important to have very good intelligence about the target, because otherwise it can be activated by  a civilian person or unintended vehicle;  but for military personnel and especially big convoys they can be a substantial problem to deal with, because the wires can be very thin and difficult to see without advanced equipment, whereas a pressure activated charge can be oftentimes spotted  and remotely activated IEDs can be jammed with relatively cheap equipment.

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Material found in a WS compound to produce IEDs.
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Claimed motorbike SVBIED.

Light Infantry Quality

When we see IS propaganda videos of Syria or Iraq we assume that in theory they are designed to provide an improved view of the Caliphate and so we usually see great numerous scenes of people appearing in the middle of a street and firing the weapon from the hip without aiming at anything, while in some videos of WS this still happens we have noticed that the way of use the light weaponry is very good for what you normally expect in MENA asymmetric warfare.

For example most times they do not expose themselves firing in the middle of the street, but rather they stay as much protected as possible firing the AKs from the corner of the building, also most times they do semiautomatic or burst fire but rarely automatic fire.

Apuntan bien EE
Most times they are correctly using their weapons, aiming and firing in burst or single shoots.

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Most times they are correctly using their weapons, aiming and firing in burst or single shoots

It is very interesting to see how they manage the DShKMs from the technicals by firing a bullet and adjusting the aim, no longer than useful bursts, every thing’s pace is as slow as it has to be. A feature that you normally do not see in this type of groups is the use of a loader for a MMG, this is a common practice among professional armies to let the gunner concentrate on aiming and provide accurate firepower for longer time periods but this rarely happens in non-State armies.

As we can see in the next image during an operation there is a gunner and there is a loader holding the ammunition belt, however in this case is a rough version of the ordinary loader buddy, because he holds the belt while waiting for the gunner to waste all the ammunition that is attached to the ammunition box, maybe the situation happened because before they established themselves in the position they were moving and so just when the firefight broke and the gunner appreciated he was going to consume all the cartridges he asked for the ammunition belts be already prepared.

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The gunner of this Chinese M80 MMG is using the ammunition box to support the weapon and aim, when he should be using the bipod, what may indicate a low level of training, however on his back the loader awaits with the ammunition belt ready to feed the M80.

In the next image we can see a rare feature, what it seems a M80 MG is mounted on a tripod to gain stability, a relatively rare attachment for MMGs in MENA which in our opinion shows a decent level of MMG’s use from WS.

EE PK tripod

The ubiquitous Soviet AT rocket launcher RPG-7 is still a very capable and easy-to-use weapon on the right hands, normally WS use them with the widespreaded PG-7/PG-7V and PG-7VM warheads which are relatively old and can not face the armor of modern MBTs but they can still penetrate a M-60A1 specially if they hit the sides, and also many other APCs, MRAPs or IFVs are very vulnerable to them.

On operations like raids, ambushes or assaults RPG-7s are always there as part of every squad of 7-8 men. The operator also wears the boosters and carrier bag with another three grenade loads, they also usually have an AKMS for selfdefense. Their use is concentrated on armored vehicles, and it is fired at ≈150 metres.

Mortars are also used, but from what we have been able to see they do not seem to be used to support operations, but rather to do fast attacks by launching a few rounds over the target and then get out of the area, for this purpose the Egyptian version of the Chinese 60 mm Type 63-1 mortar is ideally suited because it is easy to handle and hide in a normal car, which can not be done with an 81 or 120 mm mortar, however we have documented how WS captured a few old but powerful Soviet M1938 120 mm mortars and its ammunition. In our opinion mortars do not appear in WS media but they might play a significant role during operations, mainly because we have seen Egyptian security forces capturing heavy mortars a few times already.

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Armoured Force

We have seen how WS was able to capture and at least drive a YPR-765A1 IFV and a M-60A1 TTS Patton, also we are sure that if they have wanted to they have been able to capture a certain amount of ammunition both for the 25 mm and the 105 mm guns that these vehicles use, however refueling and maintenance cost and how flashy those vehicles are should have made them very difficult to hide them in time. However it is not certain if they lost those vehicles, because if at least two technicals were able to get the 25 mm gun from a YPR-765A1 it means that at some point they were able to ride those IFVs to a safe area to dismount the 25 mm guns and mount them on the technical, a clear sign that they were able to readily hide those heavy vehicles.

Another problem is the relatively complexity to fire the Patton’s main gun and the complexity and fuel consumption of its engine, however with some luck and if they are eager to get those resources they can at least overcome some of these difficulties, for example they can just use the MGs of the tank in spite of the 105 mm gun.

We think that the YPR-765A1 because of its engine and armament is much less complex than the M-60 and also is useful to safely taxi troops so it could be used in relevant operations. However from our point of view the worst scenario would be if they can use that small armored fleet to make a more complex surprise raid against a more relevant army position because it is sure that Egyptian forces will not expect an attack from their own armored vehicles. However technical availability for such an operation would be very unlikely.

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For the time being the armored force of WS remains in an embryonic stage, however in spite of scarcity the material base is already there and taking into account their success with previous raids it is not unlikely that they may get more heavy vehicles in the future, specially MRAPs, Humvees or BMP-1s that could be more easily operated by them.

EE mayo 2015 YPR-765A1 4
They have retired the 25 mm gun from this YPR so maybe that gun is the same mounted on a technical, also look at the FN FAL 50.61 with folding stock.

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As shown on the videos where they captured the YPR-765A1 they also captured a soldier that could have enough knowledge about the vehicle to explain them how to roughly drive the IFV, other prisioners could have been taken and may have given WS the opportunity to know better about this armored force and how to operate the material, may be even keep the POWs captive while they become able to maintain and operate their small fleet of armored vehicles.

024
M85 machine gun, a sight and some 105 mm rounds.

ATGMs

From what it has been released we can assert that the number of ATGMs available to WS seems to be extremely scarce and even the use of the 9M111 series ATGM shown when training their troops have not been observed during combat operations.

So in our opinion it is very likely that the amount of ATGMs in their hands is very scarce, however they have well trained operators for them because as we saw they are even taught to aim at the weaker parts of the tank and even when firing at the tank’s front they know their weaker spots as certain footages show.

But as seen at the moment only the 9M133, presumably 9M133-1 variants have been used, and always against the most precious of targets, battle tanks. None the less tanks remain the most powerful weapon in ground warfare especially because of its strong armor so when a group has just a limited number of ATGMs they are used strictly against tanks. In Syria, for instance, whereas rebel groups received huge amounts of ATGMs they began to use them against other opportunity targets, not just tanks, circumstances not given in WS’ case.

Their few Kornets are very powerful and the only Egyptian tanks that could maybe withstand its penetration abilities are the M1 Abrams which are not currently deployed on WS’s theater of operation.

However, the creativity of WS leapt forward when they decided to use a Kornet against a patrol boat of the Egyptian Navy, while this kind of actions against ships are uncommon they might increase in the future as far as they are just lightly armored and even the biggest modern vessels have a thin armor, are also significantly slower than ground vehicles and can not hide well because of lack of cover making them easy targets for ATGMs.

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Wilhayat Sinai Combat Operations

  1. Ambushes, assaults and selective targeting

While ambushes are not widely documented in WS media it is likely that they have a more significant role than that reflected in their propaganda, the reason for this lack of media presence is because it is relatively difficult to record these type of operations due to the need of previous knowledge of the place where the action is going to take place and the increasing complexity of the attack scenario.

However we have been able to see some interesting ones, for example in the next one we can see that there is a column of three Egiptian army vehicles, a SUV, a Humvee and a M-113. The IED anihilates the first unarmored SUV and just after that the firefight begins from at least two firing positions, the more advanced position is on the left of the image from where two fighters with AKs fire at the column, the second firing position is not seen but rather heard and is placed in the same postion as where the operation is been recorded from where the machine gun is providing fire, this suggests an ambush position with an advanced element comprised of men with assault rifles and a second fire support position with heavier weapons. Their action plan is facilitated by the shock  effect provided by the perfectly located IED and a well chosen target, the only vehicle of the column without number plates.

EE IED ambush 1EE positions ambush

We see another ambush, this time against unarmed soldiers, although to be fair this is not an important point. This time we clearly hear an opening single fire shot maybe from a sniper or a designated marksman, and just after that we hear the barrage of a few automatic weapons firing against the unit, where the action finish.  In our opinion this clearly suggests that they had instructions to fire only after the first round was fired, which is a good tactic to make more likely a first kill and enhance the confusion moments and shock effect of the first moments, when the soldiers are more vulnerable, also to use the first shot as a signal could be because they were spreaded through different firing positions too far away between them to communicate properly, so if this happened it is very likely that they were firing from various positions with interlooking fields of fire.

EE ambush

It is likely that these soldiers were recent recruits and they were been trained what can explain why only one soldier, probably the instructor, the man with a yellow suit carries the only assault rifle in the group.

  1. Assaults and other type of combats

Operation A – Raid after the VBIED

This is one of the few operations where WS acts as ISIS would do in the Iraqi or Syrian battlefield.

First of all an extremelly powerful SVBIED preceeds the attack and creates shock, confusion, panic ensues what degrade the defensive positions, after that at least three Toyotas carry the assault group that it is awaiting a the road at less than 1,5-3 km of the target .

S P1 VBIED
Here appears the position to be attacked, the attack and the SVBIED will come from the right, and there are two M-60A1s and three M-113s behind the barriers at the position and also there is one concealed MMG position with a FN MAG.
S P1 VBIED 2
The target just a second after the explosion.
S P1 VBIED 3
The explosion seen from the position where the assault group is waiting.

Here appears the position to be attacked, the attack and the SVBIED will come from the right, and there are two M-60A1s and three M-113s behind the barriers at the position and also there is one concealed MMG position with a FN MAG

Immediately after or coincidentally with the ensuing explosion, the assault group moves at very high speed towards the target to take advantage of the aftermath of the SVBIED, we are not sure how many Toyotas participated, but we believe that there are 3 to 4 more vehicles involved.

Next image is taken from the vehicle that in theory would be at the rear of the column, just look at the terrorist with the white rucksack.

S Tech 1

The next image in our opinion is taken from the vehicle that appears in front of the camera in the previous image, but if we look at the front of this one, we can see that there is a vehicle forward, this one at a much greater distance than the other ones.

S Tech 2

In the next image we can see that the mounted infantry accompanying the white rucksack guy has not dismounted yet, while the assault troops from another car are rushing into the position, indicating that they arrived before and paving the way for the other Toyotas to get closer to the position and land the troops.

S 1 rush

During the next part of the video we can see that there are 7-8 well organized and equipped soldiers in that SUV. First thing noted is that they all wear the typical jihad black suit, there are at least two RPG-7 operators who carry their own ammunition, presumably one man with a RPG-7 at each car, around 6 men have an assault rifle while the last one has a PK machine gun being held mounted on the car’s roof during the initial approach to provide suppressive fire while getting closer to the position,  once all the soldiers have dismounted the fighter with the MMG will follow to provide the  supporting element.

Worth noting also  how the jihadi of the next image have cleverly put the PG-7 rockets looking down inside the bag with the propellants installed on them, it is likely that he did not remove the safety fuse of the warhead because otherwise he would have probably kill himself.  This way of readying the rockets can save a lot of time, which is very important in this type of combat operations, also it reduces the need of a loader to help to reload the RPG-7 during the combat.

S 2 rush
Note how the RPG-7 warheads with the attached boosters are facing down, also note that this RPG-7 operator carries an AKMS, not a bad idea for a fast operation like this one, but maybe for this distance a submachine gun could have been more comfortable.

After this the assault group rush into the position killing the survivors and advancing through the destroyed position, one tank has been knocked, but the second one is runing away in panic from the position, less than 30 meters away from the jihadi thinking twice what to do, it looks like maybe some PG-7s were fired with low accuracy so no one hit the exposed tank that finally was able to escape.

S 1 rush runaway
Note where the runaway tank is located.

Two M-113s and one M-60 fallen on ISIS hands, the disabled tank may have get an RPG-7 at the turret but anyway we think that hand grenades were thrown inside the vehicles.  We have been able to count at least 15 killed soldiers, but the number could be even higher inside the vehicles or due to the initial SVBIED explosion.

S 1 rush 2
Aftermath.

In the next image you can appreciate relevant details of the attacked position.

S 1 AA
From left to right, the two arrows indicate the position of two M-113s that were behind the M-60A1 tank at the left on this photo, then there is the concealed machine gun position covering a road with roadblocks not visible in this photo, then there is a M1938 mortar which was subsequently captured, another M-113 an finally the M-60 that got hit.

In the next image we can appreciate that all the action has been recorded by at least two men who are also armed jihadi wearing the same equipment as their partners.

Armed WS cameraman

This operation was carefully planned, the position is relatively strong and they have the means to defend it if they had reacted in time, however the WS SVBIED shocked the position and the assault group was fast enough to take advantage of the situation attacking from one side in spite of approaching the position head on along the road, the defenders placed roadblocks and there is a concealed MG which if well managed could stop on its own the whole attack taking into account that the jihadi cars have no armor so they are very vulnerable before the infantry dismounts.

Finally in the next images we can see the loot.

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Operation B – Tank Recovery

A significant attack by WS has taken place at the outskirts of an Egyptian town, this quickly develops into a skirmish when an ISIS 9M133 Kornet, probably an improved 9M133-1 Kornet ATGM hits a M-60 Patton on the left side of the turret disabling it and causing minor fire and explosions. The 9M133 is the most modern Russian ATGM and is more than enough to deal with a 60s era tank as the Patton.

EE 9M133 Kornet
9M133 Kornet.

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After the hit a rescue operation ensues, two Humvees rush to rescue the crew while at the same time we can see how 7,62 or 12,7 mm bullets fall short by two dozen metres from the Humvees, the impact of a 12,7 mm can easily penetrate the skin of those early model Humvees. At the same time the gunner of one .50 on the Humvee tries to load a belt of ammunition, but he finally does not fire and both Humvees exit the area at high speed under heavy fire from WS.

A4
Humvee rescue operation, the red arrow marks the place where a bullet has fallen short

Follow after a second rescue operation begins, this time a better protected M-113A2 comes to do the job, but thanks to the Humvees the WS gunner managing the DShKM has adjusted its aim and now is able to hit with one round at the rightside of the M-113 hitting it twice on the left side of the Hull which until then it was able to survive three hits which more likely ended in penetrations without further damage.

EE impacto 12,7 en M-113
Image of the impact on one side of the M-113.
EE impacto 12,7 en M-113 2
Image of the impact in the other side by a 12,7 mm.

During this time the gunner of the M-113 is not able to locate the source of the attack and so he does not return fire, letting his comrades exposed to the hailstorm that rains around the target while two soldiers are working between the disabled Patton and the doors of the M-113.

After this some dismounted light infantry force seems to take over the operation to hook the M-60 to a vehicle to tow it, once this is done and the cables begin to pull off the tank the soldiers withdraw keeping the guard next to the Patton, but as the bullets continue to fall very close they finally opt for running to finally reach a protected position.

Operation C – Assault on a location

A column of about 5 Toyotas with one of them being a technical with a M2 Browning HMG heads towards their target under the protection of the morning fog, once they reach their destination, a small town in the Sinai, the technical start shooting to provide heavy fire support.

CS fog
Note how they take advantage of the fog.
CS M2 Browning
The M2 provides an excellent mean of fire support.

A designated marksman with a PSL rifle supports the lot and lead them into a small assault group of 4 AK armed riflemen that in the end of the video rush into a hasty defensive position of the army which they capture.

Operation D – RPG Ambush

This small ambush is done by approximately 5 to 10 men, the key weapon being the ubiquitous RPG-7.

The ambush is established on the sloped approaches to a settlement where a long running ramp  prevents the incoming Egyptian forces to notice what is awaiting them beyond the hilltop, by taking advantage of this situation a RPG-7 along an AK armed terrorist are placed out of view in front of the top of the slope, overlooking the road at least three men armed with AKs are waiting and possibly there is another position with AKs and a PK is waiting on the other side next to the road.

S RPG ambush 150 metres app
RPG-7 ready to fire a few seconds before the AIFV appears on top of the slope

When the AIFV appears the RPG-7 opens fire at 150 metres, he has only one opportunity and a few seconds to aim but he fails, anyway looks like the sound is again the signal to begin the firefight and the other forces begin to fire over the AIFV, however the YPR presents an improved armor that easily deals with the assault rifle and MMG fire surviving to the ambush.

The boldness to prepare an ambush on the approaches of the village under direct sun light shows a certain level of connivance or at least passivity on the part of the local population,  also the use of the slope to prepare the ambush is a very good choice that also proves that they are familiar with the enviroment.

Operation E – RPG-7 Attack

Disgracefully this footage was cut and so it is too short, however we can see in the subtitles that a RPG is used to attack a vehicle, a Panthera T6 MRAP that gets a hit in the center, just after that we hear for a moment that an automatic gun begins to fire.

Normally a RPG-7 attack is accompanied by an ambush or at least a firefight which also happened in this case, the most remarkable thing is that they were able to approach at less than 200 metres to the unit with the RPG-7.

Operation F – Gang Style Attacks

While most times WS behaves like  a conventional military unit sometimes they adopt typical criminal gangs style attacks.

Like attacking lonely unplated vehicles just by approaching to them and firing their assault rifles at very close distance, for instance:

S attempt car 2

AA Operations

As usual most of the AA capabilities of this type of groups depend on the MANPADs, and in the case of WS we have seen that they have been able to get a few Soviet Strela-2s however for these to work they depend on the the batteries that tend to expire after a few years, that way the amount of MANPADs availble for WS is very scarce.

At the moment it has been confirmed that they were able to take down an AH-64 Apache and a Mi-17 with 5 soldiers inside it. They also claimed to have shot down a civilian airliner packed with Russian holyday goers heading back to Russia (Metrojet Flight 9268), but due to the altitude where it was allegedly hit, 13.000 meters it is absolutely impossible to reach for this kind of weapon, this claim stands as a gross and cheap attempt to generate propaganda.

It is also common also for most of the HMGs mounted on the technical to have a limited but effective AA capability at close ranges.

In one of the ISIS videos we saw how an AH-64 Apache was being attacked by one technical with a KPV mounted on it, the gunner was carefully firing and aiming to a target that was less than 1, 5 km away, a distance at wich a KPV can be lethal even for a well plated AH-64 that in this case probably received some impacts which thanks to its armor did not shoot it down.

At some point the AH-64 even faces the HMG directly but the gunners kept it cool and increased the rate of fire keeping control of the bursts which give us an idea about how well trained are these terrorists.

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Finally the AH-64 exits the area probably with several impacts, during all the scene we hear how there was another technical involved firing with a HMG in the same role, so there was a small AA box in there, somehow accidental, maybe improvised but still well managed as both gunners were able to survive and probably make the AH-64 exit the area.

Hiding and timing

When they are in a combat operation they usually drive at very high speed which could be possible thanks to some basic training for the drivers, they also tend to prefer foggy days to accomplish their missions, because the fog highly limits the early warning and air power of the defenders and allows for better options when in need of withdrawal.

Night operations are not rare however those are always close engagements because they have not the means to fight during the night other than just a few night vision devices captured to the Egyptian Army, IED attacks during night time are scaled operations. The camouflage techniques include the use of soil pasted to the technical bodies and the use of foliage and vegetation for cover.

We have also observed that they tend to choose certain moments of the day like the dawn or after the lunch, moments when people by nature or location are usually distracted.

Economy

The economic factor is quite difficult to know in full for now, but we can theorize based in previous experiences with similar groups.

WS is very alike to ISIL before they conquered a true territory so their economic base is probably funded on donations, both from Salafist supporters throughout the world or from local supporters with a wide variety of reasons from ideological to political or local motivations.

Another route of revenues can be certain criminal activities, bear in mind that the area of Rafah, where WS operates is probably one of Egypt’s biggest smuggling zones and they may be actively engaged in these activities by directly moving products or by charging a “revolutionary tax” in exchange of safety.

Also they probably sell part of the loot from their operations, especially unneeded equipment like assault rifles in exchange for more advanced and interesting equipment, like MANPADs or ATGMs.

Finally, based on what we have seen in the safe houses captured by the Egyptian Army it is sure that they try to build highly self-sufficient complexes: They buy their own welders, extract and produce their own explosives and their own shrapnel, finally they might use solar panels, why? How would you get energy in certain quantity in the middle of nowhere without arise suspicions from the Police that can look at the consume of electricity of isolated installations in the middle of the desert? Solar panels can be a good option for limited things, and also sun is very powerful over the Sinai.

This kind of safe houses/safe warehouses are a key component in the homemade R+D that WS practice and they are able to provide a refuge and the technical support needed for the preparations of certain operations.

Egyptian Forces

General View

Sometimes we have been able to see what it looks like a low level of discipline in some small quarters where the defensive structures are badly built and even look poorly kept by the garrison, the continue appearance of soldiers wearing civilian clothes is even more worrying as it shows a certain lack of diligence by superiors and we must take in mind that this kind of attitudes tend to be related to corruption and funds that do not reach their targets.

Also a lot of times we see lack of training or bad practices and habits from the soldiers when harassed under fire because in the videos about snipers of WS we see how soldiers return fire exactly from the same position where they were previously targeted and also engage in “spraying”, they return fire just by shooting at random positions.

A well trained soldier normally fires only were a suspected enemy position is perceived or for suppression but not in this messy way that only allows ISIS to kill more and more soldiers.

Abu Osama Al-Masri

It is assumed that Abu Osama Al-Masri was a textile merchant born in the Sinai who has lead Wilayath Sinai since 2013 when the previous leader was killed by Egyptian security forces.

Apparently he only appeared in some of the following few images.

B ATGM 6B LE 2B LeAl Masri

But we think he also appeared in other ISIS videos hiding his identity however, let’s take a look at certain key indicatives in the next series of photos.

Every number indicates an object that appears in several images and that can be consider uncommon or even rare, the numbers are also ordered from more rare to just uncommon:

  1. Pose (rare): he has a very particular pose when he is stand up and static with the arms backward in comparison with the trunk and in general it is a very peculiar and relaxed pose.
  2. Pistol and strap (rare): a very specific sheath with a strap and a pistol, which normally is typical of high ranking officers, and even more in WS.
  3. ATGM (rare): the ability to use such weapon not just because normally you need some training, but also because the small amount of ATGMs that WS has available meaning that there are also a limited number of operators.
  4. Short globes (particular): short military globes with a specific cammo pattern.
  5. Watch (particular): a particular watch with four metal garments that shine when lit by sunlight.
  6. Shirt (uncommon): a shirt with a specific cammo pattern
  7. Balaclava (uncommon): three color pattern balaclava, not rare between jihadis
  8. Boots (uncommon): very good quality boots not always seen in WS.
01
Image 1.
B LE 2
Image 2, look at his pose.
Fin Oct 2015 4
Image 3, ook at his pose.
Fin Oct 2015 6
Image 4, look at his pose.
Fin Oct 2015 9
Image 5 *The boots ca be seen in other images taken from other angles.
03
Image 6
04
Image 7
05
Image 8

On the Image 4 you can also guess that there is some sort of hierarchical relation between the gunner who, in our opinion may be Al-Masri and the loader behind him who is awaiting with a belt of cartridges to feed the MG, also the man with the AK behind them look to be waiting orders.

While it may be hard to confirm the coincidences in this case it is also true that they look suspicious, due particularly to the highly telling posing and gesturing and the teaching and use of the ATGMs.

It is thought that Al-Masri had not relation with the Egyptian military other than maybe his compulsory military service, so his ability to use the 9K133 might indicate contacts in the military or support from outside.

For all the interested I have created a folder with all the images and videos I used to make this analysis, there you will find evidences and useful resources, especially most of all the videos of Wilayath Sinai until 2017. LINK.

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Military balance in Efrin, Syria.

In the last weeks after rumors of a Turkish invasion of the Syrian province of Efrin, and after an incendiary speech made by President Recep Tayip Erdogan the likeliness of an assault has become a reality where a lot of people has deeply overestimated the military capability of the Kurdish forces in Efrin, so what we want to show in this article is the military balance in Efrin.

Strategically the importance and location of Efrin can not be worst: It is isolated from the rest of the so-called Rojava, the Kurdish protostate in north Syria. Its importance to fight ISIS has been low depriving them from most of the US support, also the availability of heavy material is almos nule while just a handful tanks and IFVs might be ready to fight.

The Turkish Army on the other side has suffered important purges that may have affected them in some way, however it is still a capable army equipped with hundreds of tanks and ready to suffer heavy casualties in the event of a full-scale war due to its reserves in men and material. Their Air Force is also a capable force armed with modern aircraft, systems and ammunitions.

Turkish tanks manoeuvre during military exercise near Turkish-Iraqi border in Silopi
In spite of the problems of the last years Turkish Army is still a very capable force that has been able to deploy multiple troops throughout its frontier from Syria to Iraq.

In spite of the alleged attrition suffered by Turkish Army we must take in mind that it is a well established army with procedures, tactis and training that even after the purges is able to maintain a good level of preparation. While some appoint at the Turkish lack of readiness due to events such as the battle of Al-Bab against ISIS in our opinion that has more to do with the cooperation with the low quality Free Syriay Army that spearheaded their efforts during Euphrates Shield, also while the casualties suffered by their heavy material can be considered pretty high against a non-state like ISIS that doesn not have an air force or a good armoured force, however the truth is that those are just low figures in comparison to what this armies train for, that is a high intensity warfare against another State.

Opposing to the Turkish Army we find a light infantry guerrilla Kurdish forces armed with a few ATGMs and trusting their antitank defenses to recoilless guns, RPGs and mines, all of them are light antitank weapons unable to penetrate most Turkish MBTs on the front, while that weapons well used can inflict heavy casualties to an unwary enemy as Chechenya war shows it is not likely that Turkish will commit such fails.

ypg-efrin-8-15-2014
The main motorized vehicle for Efrin Kurdish are their technicals armed with HMGs certainly not enough to deal with an armoured force for a long time.

Kurdish just have the advantage of the terrain thanks to the complicated geography of the province but they can be attacked from various sides forcing them  to disperse their always scarce forces.

Taking in to account all of this we think that if a purely Turkish full-scale invasion happens with let’s say three armoured brigades attacking from various axis heading to the capital they should be able to occupy it in a matter of days, however to use a high intensity conventional force for the attack does not sound the most possible option and rather they will decide to use tha same formula as with ISIS, that is let the FSA lead a slow offensive supported by Turkish artillery, tanks, jets and SFs, this would allow the Turkish to accomplish the mission in more time but with a smaller effort on their part and in our opinion with a force of just an armoured brigade they should be able to provide the necessary backing for the FSA, however the willing to fight of the FSAcan result in certain problems for the Turkish planners.

FSA-militants
FSA has shown a very little combat value, however they are backed by a strong military machine that compenseate its weakness

If this second course of action is followed we can expect situations similar to Al-Bab, with certain tactical victories for the Kurdish but in the end they will be surpassed by a simply overwhelming force.

To support our view we found two interesting stories: On 1991 as we all know Iraqi Army was baddly wounded after a tragical defeat against the International Coalition led by USA, at the end of that war very important Shia and Kurdish revolts started but even the leftovers of the shattered Iraqi Army were able to take control of all places in a short time, that shows that even a relatively primitive army in a very bad status is usually much more powerful than any guerrilla.

AP07102605685-640x400
Turkish artillery and air force provide an absolutely overwheling fire power against the Kurdish and against any other actor actually involved in the Syrian conflict.

Another interesting example can be found in Iraq, there the Kurdish Autonomous region has been existing since 2005, they have been able to recruit forces and even to have a certain armoured force, they also account with the prestige of stop ISIS in its tracks and also the support in training and material from the West to fight the yihadists.

At the same time on 2014 the Iraqi Army suffered heavy casualties, disorganization and a huge loose of equipment and after a reorganization and also with the support of the West they were able to ride ISIS out of Mosul after a long and bloody battle.

When ISIS provoked the runaway of the Iraqi Army the Kurdish occupied some polemical territories like the important city of Kirkuk that has a certain Kurdish population. On 2017 while the Iraqi Army was still fighting ISIS on the Western desert and just after the battle of Mosul they threatened the Iraqi-Kurdish to give back Kirkuk, what happened ultimately is that Kurdish left Kirkuk almost without fighting. Iraqi Kurdish had a certain force equipped with some armoured units, they had experience and certain resources and they were fighting one of the weaker Iraqi Armies in the last 60 years and even under this balance they did not feel confident enough to even try to defend Kirkuk in our opinion this is a good example of why normally light infantry forces are far inferior to conventional heavy geared forces.

Before end this article we must take in to account the reasons why Turkey has probably decided to invadie Efrin.

First of all nobody forgets the bad Turkish-Kurdish relation because it is well known that Syrian Kurdish have deep relations with PKK that can find a sanctuary for their actions in Rojava, and also this region represents an undesirable example for the Turkish-Kurdish, the game with  Assad and in certain sense with Russia is also still there.

For Assad the Rojava thing is an internal polemical question, and the final accord between SDF-YPG-Rojava and Bashar al-Assad will probably end in something similar to the Kurdish Autonomous region in Iraq, not just because SAA is quite weak after so much years of war, but also because Russia may find Rojava pretty useful to negotiate, attract or threat Turkey.

Also while the Efrin province has seen less action against ISIS than other Kurdish areas and their isolation has limited the amount of support received both in material and politically, especially from the US it is less likely that its invasion will produce reactions from USA, aslo while Russia places certain buffer zones they do not cover the whole province and in the end Turkish Army is the most capable force in the area by far, even combining SAA, Russian troops and Kurdish they would not likely win a war so the Russian presence has just a limited value.

The direct motivation for the Turkish action might come from the battle of Idlib that now is engaging Turkish and other foreign backed rebels and Assadist forces, the conquest of Efrin would allow the Turkish to give more strategic deepth to Idlib province and also to consolidate the exposed flank of the territory occupied during Euphrates Shield on 2016, the final doubt that we have is if the Turkish plan to use Efrin to boost the rebels in Idlib and resist Assad or if they just want to occupy one last territory before the Idlib campaign ends.

The Battle for Kirkuk: What is Happening?

Kirkuk is a highly polemic city for the Iraqi-Kurdish relations, as far as the local population is divided among the central government and the Kurdish what is linked to the ethnical composition of the city.

The real population of Kirkuk is difficult to know due to the war against ISIS, the tensions and the people who abandoned the city, but on 2011 it was close to one million habitants what makes it an important piece in the local politics.

The Kurdish who held against ISIS on 2014 while the Iraqi Army runaway took advantage of the situation and occupied the city until now, however after the battle of Mosul along with the referendum of self-determination held by Kurdish the dormant conflict has get up.

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Peshmergas have a significative military power to confront Baghdag however it is scarce and expensive in term of resources and so it is much more difficult for them to replace losses that is why they are reluctant to risk their most valued units unleast there is no other option.

On the night of 16 October 2017 and after gathering troops from the Shia militias, the Police and the Army Iraq has launched an offensive spear headed by the 9th Armoured Division equipped w ith the best vehicles of the army: M1A1 Abrams and M-109A5 SPHs.

The United States who has been caught between two fires has forbidden Iraq to use its Air Force against the Kurdish, this is a typical restriction of armament imposed by the US to allied countries, to not use it against certain partners that in this case are the Kurdish. This mainly means that the F-16s and very likely other aircraft bought by US like the Super Tucano  light attack aircraft are not going to be used what blocks an important piece of the Iraqi military advantage, however, we do not know what happens to other military equipment like the advanced Russian Mi-28NE or Mi-35 attack helicopters.

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United States military support comes at a price. In the image a Iraqi F-16 that in theory they will not use against the Kurdish.

When the Iraqi operation began the fractures appeared among the Kurdish factions, because one of the most important Peshmerga groups, PUK has decided not to fight against “their Iraqi brothers” what has led to further fighting and growing tensions between the Kurdish forces.

Some politicians have successfully called the Kurdish population to mobilization against Iraqi Army, however other minorities of the city have answered with clashes inside the city in what can fastly disembogue in a civil conflict with an ethnic cleansing threat.

Kurdistan is much bigger than Kirkuk, and even the autonomous region did not originally include Kirkuk so if the war escalates this is just a small part of a whole front much important for the Kurdish, that must be taken in to account because Kurdish resources are scarce in comparison with Iraq and if in some moment they need to maintain a full-scale war they will need all of their military forces, we must never forget it in order to understand some of the Kurdish cupola decisions.

From a military point of view, the Iraqi offensive looks as a pincer movement aiming at crush the weak Kurdish positions on the roads and surround Kirkuk by taking the northern roads, because once isolated the fight will be much easier for the Iraqi forces. The other option is a left hook with the same objectives.

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Iraqi Army has launched its offensive quite fastly at both flanks of the city with another objective that is to take key government installations like military bases or airports, all of them important to take the control of the town and to support the military deployment.

It must be noted that at the moment the Iraqi offensive just includes Kirkuk, and no other point of the Iraq-Kurdistan border, this can mean two things:

  1. Because of the front with ISIS, the Iraqi government might not be prepared to fully deploy its military power against the Kurdish
  2. They want to make a show of force by taking Kirkuk and so boosting the Iraqi position in future negotiations.

As far as we know the Kurdish have not reacted in force to the Iraqi attack, this can be due to three reasons:

  1. They do not want to risk all of their irrecoverable military equipment and elite military units that can be needed to have a sustainable position in future negotiations.
  2. As far as Kirkuk do not represent the hearthland of the Kurdish region nor the source of power for the Kurdish politicians they do not expect to burn their energies in such location.
  3. The Iraqi offensive has overwhelmed them and they have not been able to move their reserves and counterattack in time against the lightning Iraqi advance who has gained around 21 Kmtrs in less than 12 hours of fighting on the left flank.

However Kurdish have militias and maybe some light infantry units inside Kirkuk, so if they are willing to really inflict casualties to the Iraqi Army they can trigger an urban warfare scenario that can cause attrition among Iraqi forces, however the lack of preparations and a bulk of force composed of low quality militias make the urban warfare option less effective than in other battles where the cities had been previously fortified.

 

 

Military balance: Iraqi Army vs Peshmergas

Introduction

Due to the recent self-determination referendum done with the blessing of Barzani, the Iraqi Kurdistan autonomous government has threatened to declare independence, affecting to even disputed areas out of the administrative Kurdish region, so our objective with this analysis is to elucidate if in case of war with the Iraqi State the Kurdish really have a chance to win.

Analysis

The Iraqi answer to the referendum was fast and an aerial and economical blockade was imposed over the Kurdish region along with the support of Iran and Turkey who also see the Kurdish separatism as a threat.

Military actions have also taken place: Turkey and Iran have done extensive military drills close to the borders with the Iraqi Kurdistan, but also Iraq and the own Kurdish are mobilizing their forces. Let’s have a closer look at them.

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Iraqis are moving important units close to Kirkuk in preparation for a possible conflict. They are even deploying their best tube-artillery SPH, the M-109A5, like the one on the image.

Both Iraqi and Kurdish forces are heavily influxed by corruption and a lack of professionalism that affects their respective military forces however both account with certain decent forces like the Golden Division or some small armored units on the side of Iraq and certain motorized light infantry units on the side of the Peshmerga.

In one hand the Kurdish forces are divided into three different political commands, the Ministry of Peshmergas the KDP and the PUK, in theory, all of them have gathered around 200.000 soldiers, however the combat-value of most of the units is highly questionable due to the lack of training and equipment, in the other hand Iraqi Army has a strength of 81.000 soldiers as of January 2016, but if we plus the other State forces as the Federal Police that even has its own heavy artillery units, and the special forces we reach the 147.000 soldiers, finally if we also take in to account the PMU and certain Shia militias they gather around 180.000 soldiers.

So if we put the focus just in the numbers as of 2017-2018 period we can say that in theory, the result is a draw, but it is true that if the conflict goes on Iraq can recruit much more troops, especially if they are helped by foreign states as Iran or Turkey.

From the point of view of the experience both armies have an important number of veterans from the fight against ISIS, however, it is true that the Iraqis have lost more soldiers during the last steps of the fighting against ISIS in Mosul, Al-Anbar and Niniveh.

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The casualties of the Iraqi Army during the battle of Mosul have been high. On the image an ambush perpetrated by ISIS on December 2016.

Before continue it must be noted that at least in the middle term it is not going to be a moment when the Iraqi Army is so weak because of the casualties of veteran soldiers suffered against ISIS, probably that is why the Kurdish leaders decided to do the referendum that can be seen as the last chance for independence of the Kurdish.

One important difference between both forces is the equipment where Iraq has an obvious advantage because of the Air Force, the artillery, the heavy equipment and the foreign supply of spare parts and ammunition for all of those systems while Kurdish can mainly trust in light infantry tactics, a combination of obstacles, mines/IEDs, mortars and machine guns. It must be noted that Peshmerga also account with certain heavy equipment like more than two hundred T-54, T-55, Type 69 and T-62 tanks and even a small amount of the more modern T-72Ms, while this force is certainly inferior to the best-armoured forces of Iraq composed of T-72Ms, T-72Ss and M1A1 Abrams, it must be noted that if well commanded and with the required maintenance and logistic support the Kurdish still have an important armoured force able to represent a main threat to the Iraqi army.

The Peshmerga can field a wide variety of APCs, IFVs and towed artillery that again are inferior to their Iraqi counterparts but never the less well managed they can represent a big threat. The other face of the significative Peshmerga heavy equipment is the maintenance problem: Five types of tanks, more than seven types of armored vehicles, and more than ten types of artillery guns. Maintain this vast fleet of vehicles with so different needs is a challenge too big for a semi-professional army.

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On this image we can see from the front to the background: German vehicle Dingo even with the iron cross of the Bundeswehr with an MG-3 MMG that uses 7,62 x 51 mm cartridge, behind it a Iraqi designed MRAP with a Chinese W-85 HMG that uses a 12,7 x 108 mm cartridge, and behind them an American Humvee.

The problem of the heavy vehicles is even extensible to the lighter material. The Peshmerga were filling their depots with old material looted from abandoned warehouses of the Iraqi Army after its dissolution on 2003, also since that year the Kurdish became the best ally of the U.S and so they got Northamerican material, finally when ISIS appeared the International Community concentrated its efforts in to help the Kurdish and so new weapons flooded the Peshmergas. The results? Now the Peshmergas have weapons from China, Germany, Russia, USA, English, Czech or Romanian among others, think of the massive problems of interchangeability because of a lot of calibers, sights, and trainings needed.

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Iraq has an excellent fleet of aircraft including some state-of-the-art helicopters, like this Mi-28NE recently bought by Iraq to Russia.

While the material favors the Iraqis the terrain favors the defenders. Kurdistan is a mountainous region ideal for defense because of its chaotic and complex terrain with a lot of opportunities to hide from the enemy air force, prepare ambushes…

Carl Von Clausewitz, one of the main philosophers about the war stated that defense is generally speaking better than attack, and that is also seen in the modern armies manuals, that in the case of light infantry tactics usually recommend numerical superiority of 1:3 in favor of the attacker to have a good guarantee of success without prohibitive losses.

If we take everything into account we can reach the next conclusions about the key elements that will decide the battle:

  • Level of morale and resilience to suffer casualties: If conflict evolves into a stalemate the resilience and the high morale can be of great impact on the result of the war.
  • Level of mobilization of both forces: This is especially important for Kurdish as far as they do not have so much population to recruit and so they need to stress their ratios of recruitment and mobilization.
  • Level of professionalism: A good command at the tactical level will be key especially for the Kurdish who face an obvious material disadvantage that needs to be compensated by more skilled and creative commanders at the tactical level.
  • Level of logistics: This will be key to mobilize both forces at their maximum strength, and particularly for the Iraqis, it will be very important to maintain in well status their heavy equipment to take advantage of their material superiority that otherwise will be unuseful.
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Training, diligence and professionalism are going to be key factors in a possible conflict. In the image members of the Iraqi Army being trained by the Spanish Legion on 2015 / Diario Sur

View of future

If finally war erupts  just between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army the last ones have most of the chances of win, mainly because even under a good defense prepared by the Kurdish the loses in men and equipment that Iraq can asume are enormous while the Kurdish have very limited supplies and men and so just a brilliant defensive plan along a fully mobilized society can lead to a Kurdish victory, still it is also true that the victory for Iraq can cause them a huge blow in money, lives and degradation for their armed forces.

Finally if Kurdish want to have a chance they would have to fight another hybrid warfare but this time closer to a conventional one than the battles fought against ISIS and under a huge firepower inferiority.

Strategic Situation Table

*All elements represented in this table represent just a personal view.

Key factors Situation
International support (Real support from outside Iraq) Totally in favor of Iraq
Global power (All economical, social, military, technical Powers…) Totally in favor of Iraq
Recruitment (Number of potential soldiers available for recruitment) Clearly in favor of Iraq
Morale (Willing to fight) Slight advantage of Kurdish
Professionalism (Level of training and diligence) Unknown
Logistics (Capacity to maintain in well status the men and material) Clearly in favor of Iraq
Firepower (Number and type of weapons available) Clearly in favor of Iraq
Equipment Quality Totally in favor of Iraq
Equipment Availability Clearly in favor of Iraq
Terrain Tottaly in favor of Kurdish

El conflicto catalán desde las armas.

Abro este blog para tratar todas las cuestiones relacionadas con armamento, fuerzas de seguridad o material de seguridad que se produzcan durante el llamado “Conflicto de Cataluña”. Procuraré ir actualizándolo a medida que los sucesos se produzcan.

Antes de entrar en materia haré una breve exposición de las amenazas a la seguridad y del material en general.

Información y contacto con el autor abajo del todo.


Amenazas a la seguridad

Hay tres amenazas principales, de las que una está ligada a las otras dos, a saber:

  • Extremismos: Como sabemos en Cataluña, simplemente por el tamaño de su población hay extremistas violentos de toda ideología política que en unos casos son favorables a los separatistas y en otros a los “unionistas”. Aunque estos grupos nunca han pasado de ser bandas callejeras, ante la actual situación de tensión, fervor y polarización este tipo de grupos deberán estar especialmente vigilados para evitar atentados o vandalismo de consecuencias imprevisibles.
  • Yihadismo: Con el conflicto a punto de alcanzar su clímax, un despliegue sin precedentes de Policía Nacional (PN) y Guardia Civil (GC) en Cataluña y una desconfianza nunca vista entre el Estado y la Comunidad Autónoma y por ende entre GC, PN y Mossos de Esquadra (MdE) se abre una auténtica brecha en la seguridad que podría ser aprovechada por los yihadistas para atentar y dar un golpe que les garantizaría el eco mediático que tanto buscan y que podría disparar las tensiones hasta puntos insospechables. Recordemos los efectos que tuvo el 11-M sobre las elecciones generales de 2004 y recordemos los roces institucionales que se produjeron tras los atentados de Barcelona. La situación que vivimos está desviando muchos de los recursos del Estado y de la Comunidad hacia el referéndum ilegal y eso debe tener un coste de oportunidad frente el yihadismo. Además el clima general, las movilizaciones multitudinarias, improvisadas, sin garantías de seguridad, concurridas y con plena atención de la prensa hacen del atentado una opción mucho más atractiva para los los yihadistas.
  • Armas sin control: Armas legalmente adquiridas por extremistas o armas arrebatadas a las fuerzas del orden, y en particular armas automáticas de guerra podrían ser una fuente de problemas de nuevo impredecibles. Pensemos que para los agentes de la GC y de la PN y en menor medida para los Mossos el estar en un entorno exaltado y hostil sabiendo que hay armas pululando por ahí es un factor de estrés y por tanto de riesgo, en particular si además hay quien está dispuesto a usarlas.

Por último por prudencia se deberán prever en la medida de lo posible las situaciones en las que los agentes puedan quedar aislados, rodeados y amenazados para solucionarlas lo antes posible, ya que un error de cálculo o de percepción de la realidad podría llevar a escalar el conflicto.

Situación del material

Tenemos seis actores con un papel importante en todo esto:

  1. Guardia Civil (GC): Cuerpo estatal paramilitar y militarizable. Todos los Guardias reciben entrenamiento militar básico pudiendo actuar como una especie de infantería ligera. Su entorno operativo suele ser rural. Algunos miembros de la Guardia Civil han llegado a servir en el extranjero junto a las FAS. Dependen del Ministerio de Interior.
  2. Policía Nacional (PN): Principal cuerpo policial a nivel estatal. No poseen entrenamiento militar. Algunos miembros de la PN han llegado a servir en el extranjero junto a las FAS. Dependen del Ministerio de Interior.
  3. Mossos de Esquadra (MdE): Cuerpo policial autonómico  catalán dependiente de la Consejería de Interior de la Generalitat, aunque los otros cuerpos también tienen una presencia fija limitada en Cataluña.
  4. Policías locales: Fuerzas policiales asignadas a los municipios de determinado tamaño. Cuentan con una amalgama de armas incluyendo las no-letales pistolas eléctricas.
  5. Agents Rurals: Cuerpo catalán de agentes forestales dependiente del Consejo Ejecutivo de la Generalitat y del Departamento de Agricultura. Son unos 500 agentes y poseen un armamento ligero muy variado.
  6. Fuerzas Armadas (FAS): En los Pirineos catalanes está destacado el Regimiento de Cazadores de Montaña Arapiles 12, que recientemente ha sido reforzado a raíz de la reforma de las Brigadas Orgánicas Polivalentes, y ha recibido medios de combate más potentes, como los VCI Pizarro. Salvo que las cosas se pongan muy feas es de esperar que esta fuerza se mantenga pasiva durante todo el conflicto.
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Vehículo de Combate de Infantería (VCI) Pizarro como el que emplean los Cazadores de Montaña. Tiene un potente cañón de tiro rápido de 30 mm, blindaje reactivo y transporta a varios hombres. En contra de lo expresado en diversos medios debe quedar claro que el Pizarro no es en ningún caso un tanque.

Las armas ligeras más comunes ahora mismo en Cataluña son las pistolas de calibre 9 x 19 mm Parabellum que emplean los cuerpos policiales, como por ejemplo las HK USP Compact o las SIG PRO entre otras. El 9 mm también es propio de los modernos subfusiles alemanes UMP-9 de los Mossos, así como de los más viejos pero igualmente fiables MP-5 de la Policía Nacional o de la Guardia Civil. Un conocido me comentó que en la PN aún quedaban algunos de los poco adecuados subfusiles STAR Z-70B en cantidades muy limitadas, y que tienen el problema de que ante golpes fuertes pueden disparar automáticamente todo el cargador, por lo que son armas poco seguras.

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Munición 9 x 19 mm Parabellum, la más usada en los subfusiles y en las pistolas de las fuerzas de seguridad españolas.

El calibre 9 mm fue diseñado por Lugger en la 1ª GM para Alemania, y es uno de los calibres de arma corta más populares en todo el planeta a pesar de que ya tiene más de 100 años. Se caracteriza por ser poco preciso a grandes distancias, pero puesto que está diseñado para pistolas y subfusiles de los que no se suelen esperar combates a más de 150 metros es de sobra efectivo, además su grueso calibre le confiere un gran “poder de parada”, lo que se traduce en que debido a su tamaño y velocidad tiene más probabilidades que otros calibres de neutralizar al sujeto impactado.

Los cuerpos del estado también contarían con escopetas de bombeo como pudiera ser la italiana  SPAS-12 u otras.

Más problemáticos podrían ser los modernos fusiles de asalto alemanes HK-36 o los poco fiables CETME-L y CETME Ameli de diseño español. Todos ellos usan el calibre 5,56 x 45 mm OTAN, que por su diámetro y diseño debería impactar contra un objeto denso y autoneutralizarse en el proceso, esto quiere decir que si impacta en un muro medianamente grueso no lo traspasará con la fuerza suficiente como para atravesar a dos sujetos en sucesión, o que si impactase en un cuerpo humano no lo traspasaría con la capacidad suficiente como para atravesar a más cuerpos que se encuentren detrás, eso sí, a cambio la bala se fragmenta y es más peligrosa para el sujeto impactado.

  • HK-36 o G-36: Cuentan con una mira de tres aumentos por defecto. Las FAS lo tienen en dotación en todas sus unidades, y emplean la versión larga. La PN, los MdE y la GC cuentan con los G-36K y con los G-36C, versiones acortadas del G-36 largo. Es un arma fiable, cómoda y ligera, construida a base de polímeros y que normalmente emplea cargadores translúcidos de 30 cartuchos.
  • CETME-L: Fue un diseño español que apuntó muy alto pero que debido a la falta de inversión en los materiales de construcción culminó en un arma mediocre tendente a los fallos y a romperse, aunque su precisión era bastante buena. Permanece en servicio en la GC y sirvió con las FAS. Cuenta con una versión aligerada con una culata plegable, llamada CETME-LC.
  • CETME Ameli: Sería raro toparse con esta arma. Fue otro intento español de producir una ametralladora ligera propia, con similares resultados a los del CETME-L, aunque con una diferencia, que es que al ser una ametralladora tiene una mayor potencia de fuego porque usa cintas de cien o doscientos cartuchos. Estaría en servicio en la GC.

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Por último estaría el CETME-C que está en dotación tanto en la PN como en la GC y con los reservistas de las FAS, un arma vieja que casi todos los que hicieron la mili pudieron disparar. Como su diseño es antiguo obedece a filosofías de diseño de los años 50 que abogaban por armas con cañones largos y cartuchos muy potentes, todo ello pensado en optimizar la penetración y el disparo a largas distancias. Téngase en cuenta que durante el conflicto de Afganistán los modernos fusiles de asalto G-36 con su pequeño calibre de 5,56 mm no eran capaces de ser efectivos a las grandes distancias propias del entorno afgano, por lo que se desempolvaron los viejos pero potentes CETME-C que con una mira telescópica podían realizar disparos precisos a mayor distancia.

La potencia del CETME-C procede de un lado, de un cañón muy alargado que aumenta la velocidad de salida de la bala, y de otro lado del potente cartucho 7,62 x 51 mm OTAN, lo que se traduce en que una bala disparada por esta arma puede atravesar varios cuerpos humanos en sucesión antes de autoneutralizarse, lo que convierte al CETME-C en un fusil especialmente peligroso frente a multitudes, ya que podría causar estragos en una aglomeración.

Aunque la Guardia Civil y la Policía Nacional han contado históricamente con vehículos blindados como los BLR, los UR-416 o incluso los excelentes Lince que se desplegaron en Qala-e-Now, no parece que por ahora hayan sido enviados a Cataluña.

Más interesante ha sido el hecho de que recientemente la Unidad de Intervención Policial (UIP) perteneciente a la Policía Nacional ha sido equipada con vehículos BMR-600 de la primera versión, unos vehículos que aunque militarmente están muy anticuados suponen un medio potentísimo para enfrentarse a tumultos callejeros.

El BMR-600 debería proteger contra cartuchos de calibre 7,62 mm, metralla, cócteles Molotov, y por tanto contra casi cualquier cosa que les puedan arrojar en una manifestación, aunque las salidas de gases del motor y las ruedas siguen siendo lugares vulnerables. En OK Diario se informó de que habían sido entregados por las FAS a la PN para su posible uso en Cataluña, aunque suponemos que esto sería la última carta de la baraja de la PN en el caso de que se produjeran disturbios extremadamente graves, ya que de facto estamos hablando de un vehículo militar que aún a día de hoy emplean por ejemplo las FAS de Arabia Saudita o de Egipto ente otros.

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BMR-600 recientemente entregado a la UIP. Esta es la primera y anticuada versión de este vehículo.

Los BMR-600 pueden montar ametralladoras pesadas M2 Browning que emplean cartuchos de 12,7 x 99 mm o ametralladoras medias MG-1 o MG-3 de 7,62 x 51 mm aunque no es previsible su instalación.

Por último tanto la GN como la PC cuentan con medios aéreos y en particular helicópteros, aunque ninguno de ellos va armado, pero sí poseen equipos de vigilancia.


Actualización 1: 21/09/2017

Como sabemos dos todoterrenos de la GC durante la noche del 20 al 21 de septiembre fueron rodeados por los manifestantes independentistas fuera de la Consejería de Economía en Barcelona, allí los vehículos fueron destrozados y según se asegura saqueados. Posteriores mensajes de voz que se enviaron los agentes entre si y a los que la prensa tuvo acceso aseguraban que de los todoterrenos habían sido sustraídos los “HK” probablemente refiriéndose a los fusiles de asalto G-36 (HK-36), aunque podrían ser también los subfusiles MP-5 (de HK) En sus mensajes de voz los agentes también se referían al “Chopo” (CETME-C). Posteriormente se dijo que dichas armas fueron devueltas por los manifestantes con la intermediación de un político. También se hablaba de “escopetas” que podrían ser o bien de combate o bien para manifestaciones.

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Imagen del suceso.

Es posible que por motivos de comodidad, por falta de previsión o por dar una imagen más amable ante la prensa, los agentes simplemente decidieran dejar sus armas pesadas en los coches, de hecho apenas se han visto imágenes de los agentes del Estado desplegados en Cataluña portando armamento que no sean pistolas, aunque obviamente deben contar con material más contundente.

El suceso no deja de ser preocupante, y está claro que en adelante habrán de evitarse situaciones semejantes o se correrá el riesgo de toparnos con sorpresas de lo más desagradables. No hace falta darle muchas vueltas para darse cuenta del peligro que entrañan armas militares de gran capacidad pululando sin identificar por las calles de una Cataluña repleta de fervientes, improvisadas y concurridas manifestaciones.

 


  • Contacte conmigo vía Twitter o vía email, minstertipo@gmail.com
  • Sobre el autor: Yago Rodríguez es analista OSINT, colaborador habitual de la revista Ejércitos y quien realizó la investigación que llevó a constatar la presencia de armamento español en Yemen tanto a través de un informe con la asesoría de seguridad ARES, como a través de su propio libro. Además de eso ha desplegado la mayor parte de su trabajo entorno al análisis militar de los sucesos de la guerra de Siria.
  • Dada la complejidad del asunto no se han tocado armas específicas de determinadas unidades como puedan ser las fuerzas especiales de cada cuerpo policial, o los vehículos más comunes como furgonetas, todoterrenos u otros .

Achtung Leopards in Syria! Full analysis of the Leopard 2A4TR in Syria

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Operation Euphrates Shield, Syria
  3. Details about Leopard 2s in Syria
  4. Leopard 2s on the stage
  5. Does the cat have a thick fur?
  6. Final analysis and recommendations

Also do not forget that we offer military analysis and OSINT services.

Introduction

In this analysis we are going to have a closer look at the performance of the Turkish Leopard 2A4TR tanks in Syria, to do that we are going to know the machine itself, the doctrine and the environment where it has operated and other things thanks to a very detailed OSINT analysis.

In 2005 Turkey acquired 298 second-hand Leopard 2A4s from Germany, later those were called Leopard 2A4TRs and they have just a slight difference in comparison with the originals, that is the addition of improved air filters, something very important for the dusty terrain generally faced in the Middle East.

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Leopard 2A4TR in Syria.

Operation Euphrates Shield, Syria

At the end of August 2016 Turkey launched an offensive with rebel groups from FSA at the north of Syria mainly against the Islamic State but with an eye kept on the Kurdish.

At first M-60Ts were deployed but after some time of rumors and Leopard 2s near the Syrian frontier on the 8th of December 2016 the first batch of Leopard 2A4TRs were seen near the town of Al-Bab firing its guns against ISIS VBIEDs.

Antes de 2
Before the final apparition of the Leopard 2A4s in Syria images like this merged near the Turkey-Syria border.

In theory a few armored and mechanized units probably totalizing no more than two brigades were deployed in Syrian territory, but deployed is not the same as used in the offensive, because it was the FSA infantry and technicals who normally led the attack what resulted in a  new hybrid warfare mixture for the Turkish army.

First of all Syrians speak Arabic, while Turkish speak Turkish even using different alphabets so the communication was not very fluent what is very important if you want to take advantage of the firepower that tanks and artillery offer, also there was lack of training and morale among FSA because this group was mainly comprised of men recruited from refugee camps in Turkey with a fickle morale to fight.

Finally but not less important as Russia or USA have done in Syria the Turkish do not use their conventional units as the bulk of the force, in spite of that they stay in reserve and just some support units are sent to the front, this is important because it means that they are far away from exploiting their full offensive potential in the battlefield.

Let’s see what Heinz Guderian, the father of the so called Blirzkrieg can tell us from his book Achtung-Panzer! first published in Germany on 1937.

“This force [in reference to armored forces and tanks] that actually has the biggest offensive power has also the right to use this power under its own rules, and so anywhere it is empoyed it will be the main force and the others will depend on them ” 

The tank is normally the central piece of the ground warfare but to fully exploit its firepower, mobility and protection it must have an accompanying force to reach all the possbilities that it offers.

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When tanks are badly accompained and operated they become very vulnerable that is why ISIS has been able to defeat a small Turkish Leopard 2s unit and capture its cats.

If a high intensity campaign would have been done against ISIS the mechanized or armored forces would have been comprised of the next accompanying elements: Mechanized infantry, engineers, self-propelled artillery and air support, all of them used at the same time, in high numbers and at the key points of the ISIS defenses to break their lines and continue the advance cutting their rearguard until Raqqa, but this has never happen, but why? Because as we said Turkey is acting like Russia or the USA and they just do not want to do that kind of high intensity but also high losses warfare, in spite of that they prefer to use their tanks as a mere support for the FSA avoiding to use them in the attack to deeply penetrate ISIS lines alongside a combined arms force.

This is the first main reason for the Leopard 2A4s losses in Syria, they are not being used as tanks must be used, they can not be just mobile guns to support rebels because for that purpose a cheap T-55 captured from SAA depots or even a technical would be nearly as useful as an expensive Leopard 2.

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Use an advanced tank like a Leopard 2A4 just to provide fire support from the distance is an obvious underutilization of a very capable tool.

But what else did Heinz Guderian told us 80 years ago? Let’s have a look:

“The rights claimed result in the next tactical needs:

  • Surprise
  • Massive employ
  • Suitable terrain”

Surprise was not reached in Al Bab and in fact it is the opposite, the Turkish low profile performance  letting most of the weight of the fight to fall on the FSA and doing just a slow advance was not going to result in any surprise.

The massive employ was not reached because tanks were used in small units, normally just platoons of three or four tanks and sometimes even individually.

Suitable terrain, the only thing that did not depended on the Turkish High Command was given by the nature of the Syrian terrain with a lot of plains and ground with just some snow during the winter.

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Leopard 2A4s were deployed in certain numbers but were not used in mass nor concentrated.

Teacher Guderian said “The high speed of the armored attack is essential to determine the results of the combat”

Most of all of the basic rules about the use of armored forces were not applied by Turkish military planners probably due to political pressure to avoid losses and because the chief of the operation, the Lieutenant general Zekai Aksakallı is from SF so he is not very familiar with the usage of armored forces.

So what was the only way of use of the Leopard 2A4TRs in Syria? Just go to one position overlooking the area and give some fire support with the help of a link officer between the FSA and the tanks or just by the own capabilities of the steel monsters.

The lack of ground reconnaissance and link with the rebels ultimately led to the Leopard 2A4 crews to take some bad deccissions and place their tanks at vulnerable positions, those ones were observated by ISIS and its experienced tank hunter units equipped with ATGMs that ultimately were able to hit the MBTs on the exposed flanks.

While we will have a closer look about protection in the section “Does the cat have a thick fur?”  first of all we want to point a few things.

Most of the missiles that hit the Leopard 2s probably were 9M113 Konkurs that attacked from the flanks, anyone with some knowledge about this subject knows that there is no modern MBT able to resist these kind of missiles at the sides if they have no ERA or cage armor attached. Apart from that German designers relied in isolate the most sensible compartments that could led to a catastrophic explosion in case of perforation, especially thinking about fuel and ammunitions.

If a tank like a Leopard 2A4 get an ATGM impact on the side the damages are unavoidable but limitable thanks to automatic fire supression systems, heavily protected ammunition boxes, fireproof garments for the crew etc At this point we can say that Leopard 2A4 resisted well those terrible impacts taking in to account that heavy damages are mostly unavoidable in a situation with these characteristics.

Details about Leopard 2s in Syria

Before being sent to the frontline most of the Leopard 2s were painted with a new arid scheme camouflage but a few Leopard 2s even maintain their old green scheme as we can see in the images.

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While they are uncommon there are still some green Leopard 2A4s in Syria.

While Syria is in general a dry country the north gets some snow and very low temperatures during the coldest months of the winter but in fact that is not a problem for the Leopard 2s that are very well suited for low temperatures.

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Syria is not as hot as some would expect.

Also the Leopard 2 can mount a 7,62 mm MG-1 or MG-3 on the turret in front of the commanders hatch, those MGs tend to use an AA sight but in this case it wouldn’t have sense for Turkish crews and so they probably use the normal sights. This machine gun is especially famous because of its deadly rate of fire around 1.200 bullets per minute. However it is a feature that we have seen just in a few cases while most of the turret MGs have been removed.

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Covered by a plastic is the MG-1/3 machine gun over the turret.

About the ammunition used, as far as what has been released we have seen M325 HEAT-MP-T (Multipurpose Tracer) rounds along with advanced Turkish (MKEK) copy of the KE German rounds DM-43 or DM-53 and Israeli KE APFSDS M322 or M328.

  • KE or APFSDS – Kinnetic Energy (Only against very well protected targets)
  • HEAT –  High Explosive Anti Tank (Multipurpose)
  • HE –  High Explosive (only against soft targets)

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In theory the DM-43s or DM-53s of the last group of images don’t exactly match with a German produced round, in our opinion those are DM-43 or DM-53 rounds produced by MKEK because we have find 120 mm APFSDS-T KE rounds produced by MKEK as we can see on the image below, but these rounds do not appear in the MKEK webpage.

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Under the M325 round we can see cartridge containers for 120 mm APFSDS-T  rounds produced by MKEK, this caliber is just for tanks and the type APFSDS is just for Kinnetical Energy (KE) rounds.

The use of HE and HEAT rounds should be the rule in Syria as far as they are the best suited to deal with personal behind field fortifications or walls, and the HEAT can even engage some armor that ISIS could rarely deploy, like BMP-1s or certain outdated tanks.

The KE APFSDS are penetrators designed to pass through the armor of advanced tanks like T-72s or T-90s and they are no effective against buildings, technicals or lightly armroed vehicles, for example during 1991 Desert Storm we saw that M829 or M829A1 KE rounds were able to penetrate from  side to side of a T-72 and left the tank without destroy anything, so if they can go across all the vehicle and get out whithout affecting it, why deploy them in Syria?

As we all know ISIS has been making a massive use of SVBIEDs mounted in armored civilian vehicles moving at high speed, those are pretty destructive and difficult to hit targets while HEAT and HE projectiles could deal with VBIEDs armors their trajectories are much parabolic because of their lower muzzle velocity in comparison with KE rounds which are around 1.600 m/s in comparison with around 1.000 m/s of HEAT or HE rounds.

This is important for several reasons, for example the DM-53 (KE)  is much faster than the M325 (HEAT) and so it has a much more flat and easy to aim trajectorie what leads to a higher level of accuracy and rate of fire both very important capabilities to deal with VBIEDs. But at this point the sharpest might argue that as I have said before this rounds tend to penetrate all the armor and leave the vehicle without cause any important damage, while this is true we must remember that VBIEDs are loaded with huge amounts of explosives and so the probability that the projectile hits one of them during the perforation is very high.

In most world doctrines including the Turkish, tank platoons are comprised of 4 tanks each with one leading tank, however sometimes some especial forces use platoons of three tanks each, this is for example more typical in expeditionary forces like marines or naval infantry units.

What is strange is that at some point we have observed what appears to be Turkish tank units of 3 tanks each while it would have sense because you do not need to mass a lot of vehicles to fight ISIS but rather be flexible with the vehicles you have, but anyway we are far from absolutely sure about this point.

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Leopard 2s on the stage

Almost all of the fighting where the Leopard 2s have been involved was linked to the battle for Al-Bab town, and especially about the clashes for its hospital located at the west of the town.

Desastre Hospital
Al-Bab town.
Desastre Hospital1
Al-Bab hospital.

For recovery purposes the main vehicle is the M88A1 originally based on the M-48/M-60 powerplants, while the A1 is an improved version with a more powerful engine.

We do not know the numbers of M88A1s deployed but what is sure is that they have not done or they have not been able to do a good job at certain times, because we have been able to see how Leopard 2A4s destroyed or heavily damaged were not recovered event a mptnh after the event, what says a lot about coordination and maybe about the ISIS pressure in the area.

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M88A1 in Syria.

At the moment we have been able to verify the existence of 43 Leopard 2A4TRs deployed in Syria along two batches: The first one was comprised of 18 tanks that were seen on 8/12/2016 while the second batch included 25 tanks that were sent on 10/12/2016 this numbers suggest a deployed force equivalent to an armored brigade and as Christian Triebert published in Bellingcat the license plates of the Leopard 2s corresponded to the 2nd Armored Brigade from the First Army.

But how are they normally operated?

Normally they fire from hastily constructed field fortifications originally intended for the infantry and built with soil walls, they are not specifically designed for tanks because otherwise they would have much higher walls covering their sides and fronts. If they would have enough time and resources they would have dug firing positions for the tanks because those protect them much more than those walls made with soil.

We have not seen any well prepared dig in fire position for the tanks what suggests a low participation and low coordination with engineer units who would have build much better positions an effort that in the end could have saved a lot of vehicles and crews.

Look at the images above and just compare the levels of protection offered by the fortifications done in both firing positions for tanks, on the left one a M1 Abrams during some drills, on the right one a Leopard 2A4TR in Syria.

Normally Leopard 2s stay behind the soil walls and provide fire support from positions overlooking ISIS territory and firing the main guns and the coaxial machine guns, however we do not know their level of coordination with the FSA.

We also think that apart from the own abilities of the tank, the Turkish are using their Cobra OTOKAR light wheeled vehicles to support fire control of the MBTs during the operations, this technique is also used by other armies like for example the French AMX-56s along the VBLs.

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OTOKAR Cobra in Syria.

It is also interesting to note that there are a lot of photos of Turkish soldiers with relatively rare and specialized weapons like the AIAW sniper rifle posing with the Leopards, these kind of rifles would be just used in very specialized sniper units particularly from the SFs a kind of forces that you would not normally expect to be operating with armored units, this gives us an idea about how hybrid the warfare is where the Turkish Leopard 2s are acting.

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As the Leopard 2s are normally acting as mere means of fire support and not as part of purely offensive and advancing forces they are not probably expected to need fire support and so probably the artillery and mainly the 155 mm SPH T-155s are not acting primarily under the tank units requisitions what is always  a defect.

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In normal conditions the 155 mm SPH T-155 Firtina would have operated in close coordination with the Leopard 2A4s.

However we are still speaking about a low-intensity operation and so the tanks deployed do not act in a normal way and in the end they are being used such as during urban fighting, that is disperse tank units and decentralize at a certain degree the command, so for example if tanks are needed at some area they do not deploy even a single squadron but just one or two tanks to provide fire support, this is because ISIS has so low numbers of troops deployed that you do not need the whole unit to be participating during the fire support phase.

While in a normal situation Turkish armored units would be coordinated with jets, helicopters, artillery and other assets, in Syria they just look to be coordinated with small units of mechanized infantry mounted on ACV-15s (a heavily improved Turkish version of the M-113 APC) that in our opinion normally act as security elements for the small tank units.

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Most times the true spearhead of the OES is the FSA units supported by tanks and by the artillery provided thanks to the SFs accompaining the FSA and using recognisment technics, the air force looks to be operating both attacking predetermined objectives and providing immediate air support.

But the main problem is that the FSA that in theory is supposed to be the infantry spearhead has a different language (Arabic) a lot of times they have no experience, low moral and a low level of training, and finally they are mainly a light force without their own heavy material what in the end and in spite of the Turkish heavy material supporting them does not compensate their deficiencies.

Also it must not be underestimated the high proficiency that ISIS tank hunter units have reached in Al-Bab, a sophistication never seen before in Syria or Iraq with even simultaneous double ATGM strikes and a good coordination to attack from different sides, and a good knowledge of the terrain that has allowed them to take some advantages and produce some small but jazzy successes.

Does the cat have a thick fur?

While some have argue that the tanks were hit by TOW-2A ATGMs we find it very unlikely, first of all because throughout the war just a few TOWs have end on hands of ISIS, and secondly because ISIS has plenty of Soviet/Russian ATGMs, some of them captured and some of them bought to rebel groups.

Those ATGMs are mainly 9M111 Fagot, 9M113 Konkurs, 9M133 Kornet and 9M115 Metis, the last one depending on its variant 9M115 or 9M115-1 has a medium range from 1 to 1,5 km, also all of them work with HEAT warheads and the less powerful one is the 9M111 with a penetration capability around 400 mm of RHA.

In theory the frontal armor of the Leopard 2A4 would resist the Fagot, could resist the Metis and the Konkurs and would not resist the Kornet.

However the sides is another story, maybe at the frontal part of the sides of the Leopard 2A4 where the heavy skirts are situated we might be speaking about a 40% of the armor on the front, while in  the other parts of the sides it would probably be even less.

Leo2DK6_k
Look at how thin the side armor is.

We estimate that the armor of the chassis would be between 3 to 8 cm thick of conventional steel depending on where are we speaking while at the low part of the chassis we should add the wheels and the light skirt acting as spaced armor what adds an unknown protection, but still the most exposed parts are the sides of the turret and the high part of the chassis because there is no extra armor on both.

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At the left of the soldier we can appreciate the heavy sideskirt blocks of first generation that were later replaced in the Leopard 2A5 version.

However Leopard 2s are designed to also protect the critical flammable or explosive components inside the tank, and overall the ammunition racks wich are protected and even every round has its own plated container.

The tank has two main ammo racks, the first one with 27 rounds  storaged at the front of the chassis at the height of the gunner, that one is very well protected but it could be vulnerable to mines that hit the low glacis or beneath the hull, the other rack is at the left-back part of the turret and it has 15 ready to use rounds, these ones are by far the more exposed, especially to hits on the sides of the turret.

v5
Leopard 2A4 ammunition storage

It is not necessary to say that every ATGM would be able to penetrate the side of the Leopard at almost any place and after the penetration just the protection measures and the luck in some way foreseen by the designers will allow the tank and its crew to survive.

Also it must be said that normally just one penetration is not able to destroy a tank but rather to cause it heavy but repairable damages including heavy wounds and even some deaths to the crew.

In the case of Syria all of the hits documented were on the right side of the Leopard 2s leading to one of the worst situations, also some tanks were captured and utterly destroyed by ISIS or by Turkish airstrikes.

Let’s have a look at the image below, it shows an absolutely annihilated Leopard 2A4, everything that could have exploited did it, but let’s have a closer look at the front of the chassis because that part is the one that has suffered more damage, for example the ammo rack of the turret has also exploited but it has not meant that the turret has been cut in to pieces, while the chassis has been. In our opinion what these evidences suggest is that such damage can just had been done by an air launched missile, in the case of the Turkish Air Force probably an AGM-65 Maverick, because the frontal chassis is very hard to destroy as it has been done in this case.

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The damage over the frontal part of the chassis is incredible moreven if we take in to account that it is the most armored part of the MBT.

Also during the ISIS video about the captured Turkish positions with a few Leopard 2s apparently they were all well preserved and so posterior images of Leopard 2s could have been taken after those captured ones were destroyed by ISIS or the Turkish. In the end those are too complex and unknown vehicles for ISIS and they are as useless as those M1 Abrams captured by Daesh in Iraq that were later destroyed.

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Disgracefully we have not been able to establish the conncetion between any of the ISIS ATGM videos and other tank photos, with the exception of the next  group of images where we can see an attack on two Leopard 2A4s, thanks to Christian Triebert for help us at this point.

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In this case the ATGM was more likely a Soviet 9M111, 9M113 or 9M133, at the position  attacked there were two Leopard 2s and one T-155 SPH. The position was comprised of a soil wall divided in two spaces at the front where both vehicles were situated to fire, for the protection of the sides they mistakenly trusted in to a civilian wall that did not cover even the taller part of the chassis.

The after effects of the engagement can be seen on this image.

 

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The second tank that was hit: Here we can appreciate the effects of the penetration.
Despues de capturados 2
The first tank that was hit: In this case we can see the hole on the turret to allow the energy of the explosion get out upwards in case of the 120 mm ammo rack was penetrated.

While both tanks suffered a brutal impact the second one got completely burnt off, judging the angle for the ATGM we can clearly see that the most exposed part of that tank was the rear turret, where the ready to use 120 mm rounds were placed, the weaker spot of the tank. The impact led to a catastrophic kill that probably disembogued in the death of some members of the crew.

The first tank resisted much better the impact, as we can see on the images of the strike and the images above the tank chassis was very angled and also the missile hit the heavy sideskirts what might have helped to decrease the power of the shaped charge once it entered inside the tank, while some damage and injuries may have been caused the crew still was able to turn back the turret, this hit could have also been close to affect the main 120 mm rack storage but it looks like it wasn’t able to reach it what shows why German designers added those heavy sideskirts at the flanks, to protect that side where a powerrful hit could ultimately reach the main 120 mm storeroom.

V8

Also it is interesting to note that on the image above we can see how the upper part of the turret where the 120 mm ammo rack is has been opened, in theory this part of the tank was deisgned to blown up to direct the explosion of the cartridges outside the tank, that is why it is very typical to see that part of the Leopard 2 turret blown up in cases of penetration.

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ATGM 1:  9M-115-2 Metis-M approaching to its target in Syria.
Cuarto Leo 2 2
ATGM 1.2: 9M115-2 hits the target

On the sequence of images ATGM 1 and ATGM 1.2 we can see the impact of a powerful 9M115-2 Metis-M medium range ATGM with a high penetration capability on the side of the Leopard 2 again a very weak spot for a powerful ATGM as the Metis-M is.

In similar hits in T-72 series tanks in Syria where the better frontal armor of the Leopard 2A4s is not an advantage because the T-72s have around 80 mm of steel in the sides probably nearly the same as the Leopard 2s, we have been able to observe that catastrophic kills are much rare in the German tanks.

Some tanks were destroyed by IEDs or mines, the fact is that normally AT mines are designed to disable the tank by destroying the tracks but not to completely blow them of, however IEDs which are “homemade” and can be produced with different amounts of explosives can be very powerful, especially if common 152 mm or 155 mm HE artillery rounds are used.

In the next image we can see a totally destroyed tank whose number plate was “195 | 526” and according to some sources it was disabled by an IED or a mine.

V1
The “195 | 526” tank.
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The “195 | 526” tank.
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The “195 | 526” tank.

If we have a closer look at the paper from an unknown source that has proven itself very accurate the tanks that revceived heavy damages had a “Ağır hasarli” (heavy damage) note, while those with very light damage did not have any indication as we can see in the original paper by comparing it with those tanks in the videos released by ISIS.

V2
The original paper with the information that later proved very reliable and accurate.

But the “195 | 526” tank appeared with no damages measure and in theory it was affected by an IED or a mine, so why the images show exactly the opposite? In our opinion it is just part of the ISIS propaganda, also the turret does not look to have suffered a prolonged fire of its 120 mm ammunition but rather a huge explosion after the ammunition was taken out, what explains the lack of burning marks and how the terrorists would have placed the explosives on the floor of the tank.

In the end it is very likely that this tank suffered a mobility kill because of a mine and later ISIS was able to loot and then put some explosives inside it to prevent the Turkish from recover their cat.

For example the Leopard 2 that appears below looks to have step over an AT mine or an IED because the right track is destroyed while the other one is in well state, and also it has not caused the destruction of the tank because it would not have been able to reach the main racks, this matches with the description given about the tank with the number plate 195 | 541.

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Leopard 2 MBT right track destroyed.
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Leopard 2 MBT right track destroyed.

Also the next one looks like the 195 | 537  tank because in the description it was said that it was “under the wall”.

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Very likely the 195 | 537

In social media it is claimed that it was loaded with a bomb and the fired with a M82A1 Barret what caused its destruction.

Interestingly almost a 100% of the hits of mines, RPGs and ATGMs over the Leopard 2s happened on the right flank of the tanks, this has a lot of sense as far as the position of ISIS was in Al Bab, and Turkish tanks were approaching from the west while approximately two kilometres at the south were placed the ISIS AT positions within range to fire the long range ATGMs two kilometres inside FSA-Turkish held territory to hit the Leopard 2s that were aiming at Al-Bab letting their flanks exposed as the next image explains

V4

 Final analysis & recommendations

Improve the coordination with FSA or even mix them with mechanized units would lead to a better level of effectiveness in te battlefield while it would also help to strength the FSA forces.

A much high level of coordination with the engineers for recovery missions and to build better protected firing positions for the tanks would help a lot to prevent ISIS from detect and hit Turkish tanks, while also the Leopard 2s should take more advantage of their mobility and do not stay in  the same position after a few shots it is important to speed up the fire support processes tor reduce detection, engage and fire by ISIS AT weapons against Turkish armor.

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Panzer IV dug in a well built position, this kind of fortification must be provided by Turkish combat engineers.

About the recovery missions they are very important because some of the tanks captured by ISIS were taken because they have small mobility problems that could have been solved by repairing them or by evacuating them from the frontline before ISIS took the position, also some destroyed tanks that should also be taken out from the battlefield were abandoned and stayed in the same places even one month after they were destroyed.

Better use of ground reconnaissance assets in this kind of low intensity hybrid warfare is vital, it is needed a major use of armored vehicles and infantry survey to find places to be attacked by the tanks in ISIS lines and to determine what firing positions are best suited to protect the tanks from ISIS AT weaponry, along with the reconnaissance the use of more anti-mine warfare equipment and even vehicles would be useful to prevent some dangerous situations.

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The Cobra MARS-V is the survelliance version of the Cobra, a vehicle that could have been very useful against ISIS during the battle of Al-Bab.

The organization of self-destruction air units 24/7 ready to destroy enemy tanks captured by ISIS could be a good idea to prevent them to use those tanks as propaganda or give us disgusting susprises in the future.

Also some of the actions of ISIS able to take some small positions where the Leopard 2A4TRs were stationed shows a certain lack of sedulity about the security element comprised of mechanized infantry mounted in ACV-15s that should establish a strong perimeter around the tanks to prevent ISIS to sneak in to their positions something that tends to happen in hybrid warfare.

Also allocate more M88A1 recovery vehicles for the units in the front to provide them better means for recovery missions along reserves of armored units as full time quick reaction forces to counter-attack, even with support of helicopters against possible ISIS nigh raids or similar ones could be a very good idea.

All the measures told above are free or very cheap however some heavy measuers could be taken to directly protect the Leopard 2s as we are going to see.

The Turkish company ASELSAN designed a very interesting prototype based on the Leopard 2A4 called Leopard 2 NG (Next Generation) which between other things adds a lot of modular armor and a cage armor on the sides.

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Leopard 2 NG designed by ASELSAN a very interesting upgrade from which part of the technology could be aplplied to the Leopard 2A4TR, pay attention to the enhanced protection on the sides.

While Leopard 2A4 is probably protected enough against most threats at the front the sides are another story and in our opinion the addition of the Leopard 2 NG armor to the sides and some ERA could make them well protected against ISIS threats however it is unlikely that without the ERA even the Leopard 2 NG could stop a Konkurs or even less a Kornet at the sides, along with these measures the study of new better protected ammo racks even by reducing them a little could be a great idea.

Finally the addition of a LWR or a similar system to alert the crew from enemy incoming ATGMs could help to save a lot of tanks and lives.

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A deep look at the heart of ISIS war machine: From tactics to doctrine

Made in the Caliphate attack drones: A brief analysis of the threat

A deep look at the heart of ISIS war machine: From tactics to doctrine

On this article we will have a deep look at ISIS from the military point of view and so we will analyze their structure, materials, way of fight and different tactics and tricks used by them on the battlefield.

If you like it I would be grateful if you could share it.

Table of content:

  1. ISIS in the attack
  2. ISIS on the defense
    1. Terrain, positions and dynamics
    2. Antitank defenses
    3. IEDs and mines
    4. Antiair defense
  3. Evolution: The egg wants to be a condor
  4. The individuals
    1. VBIEDs
    2. Artillery 
    3. Drones
    4. Snipers, sharpshooters and designated marksman
    5. Technicals and DIY vehicles
    6. Chemical warfare
  5. Deductions about their military organization

 ISIS in the attack

Depending on the degree of surprise foreseen by ISIS planners they may employ different tactics to assault a position and they are not tactics so far from those used by a conventional army. Most times they do a dismounted assault with fire support from technicals and sometimes spearheaded by a tank at whose back the soldiers advance, this is a very primitive tactic but still useful against low quality forces like those from Iraq and Syria are in most cases.

Another times when there is a big plain between them and their enemies and especially against Kurdish backed by a powerful air force they advance fast and supresively, this time the VBIEDs will open the way while mechanized infantry units advance mounted in DIY armored vehicles moving at top speed against enemy positions and at the same time they open suppresive fire against the enemy positions, by doing this so fast they are provoking in the enemy a panic reaction that ultimately leads to give up the position because of the fear to be surpassed, essentially this is known as a mounted attack a very risky option from the point of view of a conventional army mainly compensated by its fastness.

When they are dismounted the assault tactics of the infantry are quite typical, the main part of the weaponry consists of assault rifles either from AK or M-16 series, also a few machine guns normally from PK series are used to provide suppresive fire, hand grenades are used before rush in the enemy position or to clean close spaces, finally RPG-7s are used against fortified positions like walls, barriers or wickets.

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The best units of the Caliphate also employ fire and maneuver tactics on a very basic way

The use of technicals varies a lot between different forces but normally they comprise 14,5 and 23 mm guns while sometimes they can also mount 57 mm S-60 guns or M1939 37 mm guns or even recoilless rifles.

Tanks are used as mobile shields and the infantry advances from behind also they are used for heavy and direct fire support and just under some conditions they are able to engage enemy tanks, also it is very likely that normally because of the expensive and scarce ammunition for the main gun they just use coaxial or top mounted machine guns.

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The use of tanks in urban warfare has appeared just a few times in ISIS videos but maybe this is an underrepresented way of use in ISIS media because they normally record big victories and urban warfare is a slow advance one and so it doesn’t provide the glorious image that ISIS wants to present on their videos, also it must be said that the most common antitank warheads are PG-7V and PG-7VM both capabe of penetrate every T-54, T-55, T-62, Type 59 or Type 69 in Iraq or Syria with the exception of the T-55(A)MV and so use them during urban engagements is a risky option.

By knowing their armor, the protection capability that it offers and the mainly offensive spirit of the tank they normally use them during their fast attacks in the open, with especial success against the Syrian Army and their allies during flanking maneuvers to cut their rearguard and always accompanied by motorized or mechanized infantry to assault and occupy positions.

Also about the how the attack is performed they normally attack a position from multiple axes and a whole area by attacking from various sides, especially exploiting weak points in the defensive system and trying to threat the main supply routes by doing a pincer maneuver and taking advantage of the fear to be surrounded of the defenders.

During the course of the operations ISIS must be 24/7 aware of the enemy air forces and so the deployment of advanced air observers to prevent as much as possible the incoming enemy air strikes is a likely option to be used, but to be fair the best ISIS way to deal with enemy air supremacy is the use of misleading tricks against the air observation.

It is very likely that normally they move in groups as small as possible because otherwise the probability of detection and engage by enemy jets is higher but if they move in groups of just two or three cars they can be considered possible civilians and so do not be attacked, but when ISIS suffers a heavy offensive and they need to move large reinforcements in a short period of time it is unavoidable to send large convoys, when doing so they expose themselves a lot but still it is very likely that they try to move during the night when in theory air supremacy is less effective.

For what I have been told normally Daesh basic combat unit is called “Fassil” and is equivalent to a motorized squadron, it usually consists of three SUVs Toyota, one of which would be responsible for the logistic functions, this type of unit would consist of about 10 men armed with assault rifles, one or two machine guns, one rocket launcher and some hand grenades, of course ISIS is not as homogeneizated as a professional army and so this structure is not omnipresent but still this may give us a clue on how they work.

The organic addition of one logistic SUV sounds like a guerrilla evolution created when they needed high autonomy and independence on the battlefield against the US, this kind of unit might be much more difficult to locate and decide to engage by an air force and also it reduces the logistics footprint for the Caliphate, while its disadvantages would be the difficulty to concentrate and coordinate large forces in brief periods of time, but it is true that the combat environment being faced by ISIS is relatively slow and numerically low in comparison with what a conventional army would expect what compensates the disadvantages at a certain degree.

Another typical trick even used by Iraq during 1991 consists in generate big columns of smoke by burning some crtitical places with very inflammable content, also against the link officers from artillery or the air force they also burn large amounts of tires to generate a smoke screen not as dense as when a big installation is burnt but still effective for a short period of time, this kind of tactics were heavily employed when the great operation to reconquer Mosul started.

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Smoke is the true AA cover of the Caliphate on the battlefield

Like the smoke Daesh tends to use the cover of sandstorms to launch large assaults and we have also seen some night raids by their best units. some of them even using silenced pistols.

Another common tactic used by ISIS is related to the use of large amounts of dummy vehicles simulating military ones, of course this is a very old trickc but it is still interesting to find it on ISIS hands. It is possible that at a certain degree the old Saddam’s officers are behind something like this because it corresponds to high intensity warfare not well known by guerrilla groups.

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ISIS wood dummy vehicles simulating a T-54/55 and a Humvee

We also think that dummy vehicles are not massively used but just when they want to confuse enemy air survelliance and make them spend time and ammunition on false targets while the main operations are ongoing in other part.

It has been relatively common to see some strange large inventions consisting on a kind of big umbrella totally covering a tank, this could be used during the displacement phase to the concentration areas before being clearly detected or even during an offensive to protect them from the jets above by hidding the vehicle.

Most of these tricks are more effective against the SyAF whose airplanes most of the times are outdated and so their systems are not so capable to detect this kind of ruses.

Another common trick is related to the use of tunnels at every level, from the front to the homefront to move and store resources, to live in, to be protected from air strikes and artillery before an attack and to safely move troops from one point to another in to an area  with prepared defenses, like a village or a town.

ISIS on the defense

Terrain, positions and dynamics

The predilect ISIS defense is established in a medium size urban area with some civilian population to be used as human shields, a big net of tunnels to comunicate different key points and a well knowledge of the surroundings to avoid the enemy  to enter the town but if it happens they may have a few strongpoints well entrenched with a lot of IEDs deployed to resist.

Sometimes when they want to cover a retreat from a  position they let a few suicides at their back and they get out during the night, also I have not confirm it but it is possible that sometimes they use light forces equipped with technicals and a few ATGMs to delay the enemy and screen the movements of the main force.

ISIS understands well that the objective is not to build positions with very gross walls but rather difficult to locate because once it is known it is just a matter of time that jets, helicopters or artillery will reduce it to ashes.

Oposite to the ISIS “doctrine” has been the finding of tanks being used as pillboxes on fixed positions covered at the top by the roof of a house, while we are not sure if it was because of the lack of fuel for their tanks in our opinion it just represents a desperate decision to use a valuable tank that otherwise would be absolutely useless.

Some elements normal for every army like dig trenches, put obstacles for the vehicles, clear the fields of fire, demolish buildings to cut roads, build barriers to avoid enemy to see them or even use blankets to cover certain areas or certain gaps on tunnels are also typical of Daesh.

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ISIS isn’t lame and they also use conventional field fortifications

Sometimes we have even seen them build something like petrol moats to act as fire barriers and above all again generate smoke against enemy observation both from ground and air.

The defense on open terrain is uncommon because it means huge disadvantages for them because of the lack of heavy armor, materials to build defensive lines in deepth, unexperience on that field, and exposure to enemy observation especially of the fixed positions.

We think that populated locations are their guide and reference to establish defensive positions and it is very likely from their point of view that every urban stronghold has the means to protect its position and at a certain degree its surroundings with its own material, while there must be something like “motorized reserves” by using technicals and civilian vehicles ready to be moved when one stronghold is attacked by a superior force, this may specially work in terms of ATGMs, a relatively expensive, scarce and vital weapon to defeat the core of the armored forces attacking them, however if the fight goes inside the town things would work different and evolve to something very close to an attrition battle.

While in our opinion there is not a clear way of defend by ISIS in terms of formations like a perimeter defense or a reverse slope or so in our opinion they tend to use a mix of them and specially prepare ambushes in some relatively open terrain inside the towns, in places like parks, parkings, or big buildings or complex of buildings with some open ground surrounding them.

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The huge urban ambush settled by ISIS on December, 2016 at Al Salam hospital in Mosul was a big reverse to the Iraqi forces and prolonged the Mosul battle

Antitank defenses

ISIS antitank defense engagement ranges table

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Green = normally used, Yellow = sometimes used, Blue = rarely used

How does ISIS engage armored forces, and especially tanks?

If we think it cold,  ISIS on the ground is facing an outmatching armor, in Iraq they fight against M1A1 Abrams and T-72Ms, in Syria they fight against T-90s, T-72Bs from advanced variants and other capable tanks, and against Turkey they are fighting against Leopard 2A4s and M-60Ts, try to battle them as equals by counterposing their own armored forces wasn’t a viable option for ISIS and so they have developed quite complex but not new antitank tactics.

The best long range AT weapon of ISIS is the ATGM, while they have operated a lot of ATGMs we can say that the 9M111 Fagot, 9M113 Konkurs and 9M133 Kornet are the most common among their forces, while missles like the Konkurs or the Kornet maybe are not able to deal at the front with the most advanced tanks like the M1A1 or the T-90 it is sure that every ISIS ATGM hitting the side will probably penetrate and cause big damage to even the most advanced tanks.

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ATGM is the best AT weapon on hands of ISIS, on the image a 9M133 Kornet

At medium ranges from approximately 1.200 or less metres the best ISIS weapon is the recoilless rifle, normally a 73 mm SPG-9 but also B-10s or M40s, very effective against modern tanks if they hit them on the sides but they need a certain degree of training to be fired, in exchange they are much cheaper than ATGMs and so they can also be used against lightly armroed vehicles and infantry.

Finally at close ranges like 400 metres or less they use RPGs, normally RPG-7s but sometimes M72 LAWs or similar one-shot bazookas, also for area denial or to canalize enemy forces they employ important amounts of minefields using both conventional or DIY mines, they also employ heavy weapons like 12,7, 14 and 23 mm calibers against lightly armored vehicles and hand grenades or even antitank grenades at very close range.

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The most widely used RPG, the RPG-7 is a very useful tool in hands of ISIS

Another tactic used by ISIS to engage enemy armor consist in use large concentrations of mortar fire, that is a very common tactic among profesional armies but not so common in the case of non-state actors with small amounts of ammunition at their dispposal, it has not been widely documented but on the claimed page of 15 vehicles destroyed by ISIS in Syria two or one were because of likely or confirmed mortar fire, this gives us a percentage of 7,5% to 14% by comparison the ATGMs, the most effective weapon of the Caliphate represented slightly more than 50%. The problem is that some weapons are better suited to be recorded than others and mortars are not good for that purpose because you need more than one camera and they are not as predictable and spectacular so maybe they do not appear on ISIS propaganda.

While some may ask why for example mines/IEDs are not so effective in my opinion it has a big relation with a good training because sometimes apart from the most obvious avenues of approach like roads or lanes they are not very good at identify the enemy attack directions and also they don´t have massive amounts of this kind of weapons, something very important when you want to deny areas.

Since the begin of the SCW on 2011 the use of ATGMs by every side has been very basic, normally it was a group of a few men with the launcher and the missiles who sighted and attacked an enemy force, but since the begining of 2017 we have seen an increasing refinement on the ISIS way of use of ATGMs, especially against the Turkish armor in Al-Bab.

For example let’s imagine a normal situation near Al-Bab, a formation of 4 Turkish M-60Ts is facing ISIS, M-60T is impermeable to every ISIS weapon so they must be attacked from the sides, but this unit is formed covering a big arch and so if one ATGM is shot it is very likely that one of the tanks will be able to locate the place where it was fired and open fire, from this situation arises a new necessity for ISIS, that is to strike more than one vehicle at the same time, a tactic that also leads to a bigger capability to destroy enemy vehicles because they will not have as much time to react.

We have seen a few recent double and even triple simultaneous ATGM strikes against a single unit of armored vehicles, what is a big problem to deal. This kind of attacks at the same time from different positions indicate a relatively high level of train and coordination because it requires to have previously selected the positions for more than one ATGM launcher and an officer to coordinate the action or at least pre-establish a common plan.

And that is the other point, the experience show us that ISIS has been able to correctly guess the best firing points against enemy armor and also a flexible enough force to move the scarce resources when and where they are required.

Also sometimes they use tunnels to position themselves behind the armored forces and strike them from the back where they are very vulnerable.

IEDs and mines

Daesh gathered a lot of experience about IEDs during the years of the occupation when they were normally planted on the expected roads where the foreign convoys were going to pass. There were a few types of IEDs like those using an impact fuse or those remotely activated by a phone call, also when attacking civilians, another field where AQI accumulated extensive experience, the use of artifacts with timeserver was possible.

But IEDs are not just hidden bombs but also for example DIY hand grenades used to equip their infantry.

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While the use of this kind of artifacts to ambush Iraqi or Syrian forces as it was done during the occupation has had a paper during the Caliphate operations it is true that the main objective has shifted in favor of some new roles.

Fist of all when ISIS retires from a location they let it filled with hundreds of hidden booby traps used to continually produce loses to its enemies and so slowly bleed them out, also they are being used as a delay tactic to slow the enemy advance by randomly, and a lot of times hastily putting them on the likely enemy avenues of approach.

Finally we find quite likely that they use them as a typical mean to strenght some positions by putting fields of IEDs in front of them or to canalize enemy attacks towards some pre-established kill zones.

ISIS Import Most Material for Bombs and IEDs from Turkey: CAR
ISIS field of IEDs

Antiair defense

As Oryx has stated along some very interesting articles ISIS has try a lot of things to do some damage at the air forces that harass them, some of the quite desperate actions like use D-30 guns on AA role or mount captured air-air missiles on trucks to use them as AA platforms have been an obvious fail and they are just intern psychological medicine to show their population and troops that they have specific AA units dedicated to shoot down jets while their true effects are null.

However the ISIS inventory of AA weapons consist of 12,7 mm, 14,5 mm, 23 mm, 37 mm and 57 mm machine guns and guns along with some MANPADs and a few ZSU-23-4 Shilka AA vehicles.

All of those weapons are effective against low flying aircrafts, but specially against helicopters because the jets normally don`t fly so low, for example the AA machine guns may have ranges as much as 2,5 km, 57 mm guns well managed  may have a range of about 4 km and MANPADs depending on the model 6 km approximately.

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ISIS ZPU-2 double 14,5 mm machine gun on a technical, the recoil of this kind of armament mounted on cars might lead to an important lose of precision

This kind of material just allows for a close point AA defense situating the armament around the objective to protect it, however if they want to give a certain AA cover to some units who are likely to receive helicopter attacks the use of MANPADs AA units mounted on highly flexible civilian vehicles is probably their best option, especially when considering how scarce those weapons are, also the distribution of a few men armed with MANPAD forming a triangle may let them cover bigger areas, but if this consists just in one MANPAD units without coordination with the other ones their efficency must be very low especially considering the very low fly and use of countermeasures by modern helicopters, what makes aircrafts even harder targets for the MANPADs.

While in theory mos of this material is probably near the front close to the expected areas to be attacked by enemy helicopters it is very likely that some important fixed objectives or even important persons of ISIS get a point AA defense protection against possible raids of the Western Special Forces who will normally employ helicopters to go at the back door of ISIS letting those helicopters relatively exposed to this kind of systems.

In the other hand while a ZSU-23-4 vehicle could be relatively effective at close range defense if it is not able to use its radar it is nothing else than a self-propelled ZSU-23-2 and as happens with heavier AA systems ISIS has not been able to operate those radars.

Since the very first moment was obvious for everyone that ISIS wasn’t going to be able to defeat an air force but below that it is true that they have been able to shoot down a few helicopters.

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This modern Iraqi Mi-35M was destroyed by an ISIS FN-6 MANPAD

Evolution: The egg wants to be a condor

While the first archaic origins of ISIS are even before 2003 it was after the US invasion of Iraq when the group grew up, especially since Al-Zarqawi took its lead until he was killed on 2006, during that time Al Qaeda Iraq, as they were known, adopted extremely violent methods and at a certian degree the way of think of that epoch  has influenced the current ISIS lack of diplomacy derived from their radical think and actions.

Around 2011 the organization was badly wounded so they decided to begin a new “policy” based on attack prisions to liberate religious extremists and recruit them fot the group, later they also took advantage of the Syrian Civil War that had started on 2011 it is possible that during the first moments they acted as a moderate group to get financial and material support something that worked for some time.

But during 2013 the group took off his mask and occupied Raqqa and a big part of East Syria by expulsing the rebels and the Kurdish and again using very violent methods, this provided them with a huge amount of material, territory and population, at this point the true Islamic Caliphate was bornt, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2014 when ISIS made use of their penetration among Iraqi sunnies to hugely defeat the Iraqi Army around Mosul, a victory that was related to the sunnie disenchantment with the sectarian shia politics from Baghdag and an excellent use of psychology during the battles by ISIS.

When the victory over Mosul was completed ISIS was in full expansion of its power, its territories and above all their army.

They sewed a new army in a brief period of time, while it was still based in light infantry and guerrilla material and philosophy they get huge amounts of APCs, IFVs artillery and tanks what lead to the creation of the first armored and mechanized units, birefly they captured the next heavy material:

  • Artillery: D-30, M198, D-74, D-44, D-20 guns
  • Tanks: Their core is comprised by T-54/55 and Type 69 (a Chinese copy of the last) while also a few T-62s and T-72s are part of their forces, they also captured M1A1 Abrams, M-60Ts and Leopard 2A4s but they decided to destroy them because of their complexity and other reasons.
  • APC: BTR-80s, MT-LBs, M-113s, M117s, Humvees, MRAPs
  • IFV: BMP-1s

Apart from that they also captured huge numbers of personal equipment, ammunitions and light weapons, including mortars, ATGMs and recoilless rifles.

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ISIS MT-LB and M-113 both APCs used by the group in Iraq

This new DIY combined arms force comprised some conventional artillery, tanks, APCs, survelliance drones, guerrilla motorized infantry units using technicals… While for example a typical T-55 is an outdated tank with a relatively bad armor unable to resist most of the AT weapons on the battlefield they still offer protection against most of the weapons. For example the Kurdish weapons available to penetrate a T-55 would be just their RPGs, their few ATGMs and their recoilless rifles.

The low availability of those AT weapons and the lack of training and experience on their use led to easy ISIL victories by even using outdated tactics from WWII, also the combination of tanks as rams along with the technicals to provide fire support and the dismounted infantry to assault positions was a strong capable force for the Syrian standards.

At that time the violent ISIS methods provoked an international response that led to rearm the Iraqi army, send Western forces and suit a strong air coalition able to make a lot of damage to ISIS, from the military point of view the violent ISIS methods provided them with some advantages and disadvantages:

  • Advantages: it gave them international fame and in terms of radical sunnism it means that they became the beacon for the yihadis around the world and their supporters, also when their enemies were not surrounded they tended to runaway in certain situations thanks to the psychological impact of the very violent ISIS actions spreaded by their excellent propaganda media and the local support of part of the population.
  • Disadvantages: all of those advantages gave them fast victories but it also meant that when a force was completely surrounded or it was composed of non-arab or non-sunnie groups they tend to fight fiercely making ISIS advance much harder thanks to their pitiless diplomacy. Also their declarations and acts activated a strong international response that ultimately was vital to defeat ISIS, of course the main element was the air coalition leaded by USA that was able to provide tactical support to Kurdish and Iraqis on the ground and even do damage in the deep of ISIS structure. Also they even get some unnecessary enemies among radical sunnie groups with whom they could have get agreements.

When this final step happened the pressure from the air coalition but also from the SyAF and the RuAF forced them to adapt to a new kind of warfare where they were been continuously harassed from above and so the use of their new hardware was more difficult and required more caution decreasing its effectiveness forcing them to adopt new tricks and tactics.

When ISIS arrived to Syria it was an Iraqi group with around 2.000 fighters, but one year later they controlled a big part of Syria and Iraq with a few tens of thousands of troops and plenty of heavy material, while explain this growth is difficult we think that some reasons are related to the calling effect of their victories among local populations and a intelligent diplomacy towards yihadi groups both from outside and inside Syria and Iraq what ultimately allowed to the creation of a big army in a short period of time able to defend very distant fronts against multiple enemies.

The individuals

VBIEDs

The suicide bomb vehicles are used as a second artillery to produce a first shock before the main echelon assaults the position or as a ram against an entrenched force or a strong point, but the suicide drivers are a relatively expensive and limited weapon on hands of ISIS and so they are probably assigned to a unit depending on its mission and with a pre-stressed amount of VBIEDs at disposal giving the field commander a silver bullet to be used during the critical moments of the battle.

The experience of ISIS with VBIEDs was gathered during the insurgency against USA but those VBIEDs where relatively unpowerful and badly protected in comparison with the threat that we are facing now.

There is probably a certain high degree of centralization to on one hand recruit, brainwash and test suicide drivers and on the other hand design the vehicle to be used and the explosives to fill it.

A typical VBIED would be a chevy with a few hundred kilograms of payload from wich a part is deviated to add armored plates to the vehicle and so protect it from the weaponry that the enemies of ISIS are going to use desperately and in mass against it, this extra protection along with a relatively high speed (probably superior to 100 km/h) make these artifacts a big threat on the battlefield.

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In comparison to Iraqi insurgency VBIEDs a typical ISIS VBIED is better protected, has less explosive payload but a bigger shrapnel effect thanks to the armor, but in the end it largely depends on the DIY deisgn
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The effects of a VBIED explosion are huge, on this image we can even appreciate the expansive wave

Artillery

Most units from ISIS have mortars and at a certain degree other types of DIY artillery with a low accuracy but with some level of effectiveness when used in mass.

Conventional artillery is not very common and normally it is just seen on the main offensives as a support force along with mortars, although the degree of ability to manage the artillery pieces may vary a lot between different units.

The artillery tends to be used in the same way as VBIEDs to produce a shock before the first assault or even to pound enemy positions especially to defeat some enemy resistance that may slow the main axis of advance or weak fortified positions. They have the problem that most of their pieces are not self-propelled and so they can’t follow the assaulting force at great distances because they are very exposed to enemy aircraft while being towed through the roads.

The best piece of the artillery parque of ISIS probably is the M198 155 mm US howitzer a very accurate gun able to provide a deadly firepower, but the most used piece is by far the Soviet designed D-30 light howitzer, a 122 mm gun relatively easy to manually operate and with a relative light weight perfect to be transported and even hidden from air coalition jets, also its low weight makes it suitable to be installed on platforms such as trucks meaning that ISIS has self-propelled artillery, however a civilian truck is not well suited for pieces like this and so their performance is relatively bad in comparison with military dedicated SPHs.

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ISIS captured M198 gun
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ISIS firing a M198 howitzer captured from the Iraqi army

While conventional artillery is assigned to units depending on ther mission and are probably part of fully dedicated artillery units it is very likely that most of the ISIS units have at least an organic mortar support group or something close to it but still it is dubious the level of  ammunition availability for this kind of weapons with high rates of ammunition expenditure.

The mortars mainly comprise they typical 81 and 120 mm calibers and as we have already told looks like every ISIS unit with certain size has its own support group based on mortars, a deadly weapon if its is well managed.

Drones

Apart from propaganda the main use of drones by ISIS has been to recognize the terrain before the offensive and probably to correct the artillery fire, so we have seen a lot of times how unarmed ISIS drones were shoot down, this is because they were doing survelliance missions a very useful tool for the ISIS military planners.

The appearance of ISIS armed drones is quite recent and as it could be consider by some as a mere psychological weapon in my opinion is just another weapon with a big psychological impact but also with some level of capacity to help ISIS wear out its enemies by its massive use and with an increasing level of menace, especially to unarmored vehicles transporting ammunition or uncovered infantry in the open.

We are not sure about their way of use but we think that it could be a mix of direct support assigned to a unit or also they act as lonely hunters looking for opportunity victims close to an area of operations limited by its autonomy.

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What is sure is that they have been trained to choose their objectives because in our opinion they are looking for open roofs on the vehicles, this is becuase their main aerial bomb is based on a 40 mm grenade with a kill ratius of 5 metres and a very small penetration capacity, so the best way to use it consist on hit somewhere open with a lot of explosives on it, like Humvees  but also tanks with the hatch open, a tactic that in spite of be quite homely  has proved effective and at a low degree can be considered as another anti armor ISIS weapon.

Also it has some advantages like the low cost of civilian drones and the operators training, and also the cheap ammunition used of course if they face EW equipment they have no chance, but an even bigger force of drones might be the backbone of a low-cost terrorist air force that must not be underestimated.

Snipers, sharpshooters and designated marksmans

The use of snipers (or similar ones) by Iraqi insurgency groups is not new, when they were facing the West superior firepower most tactics shifted to hit & run because it denied the Western to make use of their superior firepower by calling air support and so between these hit and run tactics the sniper played an important role as it was able to do deadly shots from the distance and stay undiscovered.

Generally speaking some of the most common long range rifles on ISIS hands are the U.S M24 using a 7,62 x 51 mm cartridge, the Mosin Nagant using a 7,62 x 54 R cartridge and the king of the popularity, the mythical SVD Dragunov or its foreign copies.

As an idea of their potential the SVD series are accurate enough at around 700 to 800 metres on hands of experienced snipers and with a powerful scope magnification.

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ISIS sniper unit aremd with different versions of the Russian SVD rifle

Snipers are assigned to the units more as sharpshooters than as snipers to support the forces during the attack or for attrition tactics along with IEDs or so inside urban environments.

A very typical combo is the usage of snipers along with IEDs in abandoned towns, for example when ISIS forces left Sinjar to the Kurdish they let it filled with booby traps and a few snipers to produce some more casualities to their enemies a very efficient cost/effective way to deny the complete control of some area to the enemy and make him divert some sources to it.

Also it must be said that the camouflage knowledge of the main part of the ISIS snipers is quite basic being reduced to some mimicry, also a lot of times they act as anti light armor by using high caliber sniper rifles like the Sayyad-2 able to penetrate Humvees, M117s, M-113s and other light armored vehicles.

Technicals & DIY vehicles

Technicals or as we can call them “gunneds” essentially are civilian SUVs or trucks with a weapon mounted at its back for direct fire support, normally those weapons have no plating and they usually mount the next weapons:

  • MMGs and assault rifles: sometimes on some vehicles they add firing ports to let the troops inside open fire with its light weaponry, a good improvement while doing mounted attacks.
  • HMGs: DShKM 12,7 mm, and KPV, ZPU-2 or ZPU-4 of 14,5 mm
  • AA guns: ZU-23-2 double automatic gun of 23 mm, 57 mm S-60 guns on trucks and sometimes even 37 mm M1939 guns or their Chinese copies.
  • Recoilless rifles: this is not a common upgrade but when it exists normally uses a U.S M40 of 105 mm mounted on a jeep, this upgrade means a lot because it is thought to be used as a tank hunter by fastly moving to a position an effective tactic against badly trained tank crews.

But sometimes they directly design absolutely new and huge vehicles that I call gunned castles which add a lot of bulletproof plates and a few levels with HMGs mounted on them what creates very strange combinations that remind us to some WWI vehicles. Their objective is to safely transport as much fighters as possible while at the same time those vehicles provide a great suppressive fire in all directions, something vital during frontal attacks on a plain.

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Look at this monstrosity, T-72 chassis, cage armor, two levels, one turret, two HMGs, one DShKM (12,7) and one KPV (14,5)

In the end we can say that gunneds are the IFVs of the poor and because they are put on good platforms like civilian Toyota pick ups they have a good mobility, a good cross country ability, a low logistic footprint and a high reliability, something vital in combat situations.

Chemical warfare

From all of the abilities deployed by ISIS on the battlefield the more complex at the moment by far is the use of chemical weapons in limited amounts, while we are not sure if it has been done by trained fighters or by a grave recklessness this is a worrisome issue.

While the use of chemical agents by ISIS has been limited unfortunatelty we can not say that it has been anecdotic nor ineffective.

Most likely all agents came from captured Syrian and Iraq installations where those weapons were already produced and storaged.

But chemical weapons have several things to be known  and considered  before use them, like direction and speed of the wind, humidity, concentrations needed of the agent to both incapacitate or kill, the use of the precursor substances from the binary system and the dispersion vehicle/weapon to be used what is not an easy ability for an originally guerrilla group.

The ability of ISIS to produce operative chemical weapons is very unlikely so their capacity on this field is closely related to the amount of ready to use ammunitions captured in Syria and Iraq and the level of availability of the dispersion vehicles.

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Black circles mean places where documented ISIS chemical attacks have been confirmed

If we take a look at IHS map where 52 confirmed chemical attacks by ISIS have been documented we can see that most of them have taken place against Kurdish both from Iraq and Syria, in our opinion this could be related to a correct ISIS think about the lower readiness of Kurdish against this kind of weapons especially because in theory they haven’t get NBC equipment and training so they are very exposed to gases. Also the use of the agents tends to be more psychological than tactical.

At the moment the degree of mortality reached suggests the use of some common chemical agents like the sarin, the chlorine or the mustard gas, the three present in the Syrian inventory, but fortunately none of those is one of the “top tier” gases of the Syrian government which are the tabun and the VX. From those agents on hands of ISIS the sarin is by far the most powerful.

Training

Of couse the different weapons of ISIS may require different trainings but above all a light infantry training is probably the one that ISIS has been mainly providing, this comprises the use of assault rifles, machine guns, hand grenades, RPGs, basics about movements, fire and maneuver, camouflage, orientation, close combat, basic field fortifications…

Some normal units probably get a specialized training about ATGMs, artillery, snipers, MANPADs, mortars, recoilless rifles and in certain occasions about armored vehicles.

A big part of ISIS comprising experienced yihadis do not need training and also a big part of the local militias supporting them are badly equiped and not very trustable so they probably don’t receive a good preparation.

Finally the core of their recently erected force comes from people and volunteers recruited inside and outside the Caliphate, then they are probably classified, most of them have no military experience but a few may have done the military service or even have served in Syrian or Iraqi army and so they could have very valuable experience as mechanized infantry, light infantry or tanks, if so they may receive new specific training and been sent to those especial units.

It is very likely that most of the light infantry training and especially that locally recruited is trained at its own Wilayat to take advantage of their known of the terrain, society and climate, but this arises the question about their training standards.

We have seen how pupils from ISIS held territory get some ISIS-edited books, so if it has happen at the educational level it is very likely that it has also happened at the military level and so they have produce their own brief and adaptative military manuals for the training camps and their instructors.

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ISIS edited English book for their pupils

Unfortunately we don’t have much information about ISIS training and especially about their local recruiting system, their training philosophy or the duration of the instruction phase.

Deductions about their military organization

The main civilian administrative unit of ISIS is the governorate (Wilayat) with a governor and his subordinates and advisors.

The growth of ISIS was too large and too fast, especially in the case of  Syria where they were not as present as in Iraq before 2013, their fast evolution adding groups of globalist yihadis, Chechens, Iraqis and Syrians in both scenaries with huge fronts comprising deserts and towns, desertic and mediterranean climate, and been  facing very different threats including Iraqi Kurdish, Syrian Kurdish, rebels from Syria, Turkish supported forces, SAA, Iranian militias etc could not have been done without a great level of decentralization, but the problem arrives when we try to decide what is the true level of military decentralization.

Let’s take the defense of Al-Bab as an example, was it just a defense organized by the corresponding Wilayat or there was a declared  theatre of operations charged to one commander independent from the Wilayat? In our opinion the tactical defense in normal situations is mainly responsability of a Wilayat and its commander by providing most of the resources needed to successfully accomplish the mision, while there must be a certain degree of coordination with the Central HQ to apply for new resources and some big strategic or operational operations are prepared by the Central HQ that sends specific elite units and commanders to the area.

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Outdated map of ISIS Wilayats

There could be a high level of central control over some especial units like tanks, conventional artillery, suicides, drones, highly experienced fighters from outside or MANPADs to be provided at critical moments. At first look we may think that with the increasing pressure of air supremacy the movements may have get more difficult and so the move of fighters and material from the Central HQs in Mosul or Raqqa at distant places is very risky, but this is probably mitigated by placing the bases and training camps near the most likely operational theatres, by this way the Central HQ just would need to give the orders and the especial units would be relatively close to their destinations and so the possibility of been caught by enemy aircraft largely decreases.

Also it is very likely that apart from the political orders and some basic military instructions the autonomy about planning and acting in the battlefield is very high and especially in everything referred to warfare material, for example the Chechens units probably retain a certain degree of autonomy in the battlefield and they buy or get their own weapons from loot, black market or ISIS arsenals at their will.

Finally ISIS presents us a very monolithic and solid image but would be interesting to know how the hierarchy works among different human military groups like Chechens, tribes, Syrians or Iraqis because the existance of so much differences among those groups that sometimes are even lobbies inside ISIS can make the Caliphate much splitted than we actually think.


I would like to especially thanks to Historico for his excellent article about the use of tanks by ISIS and also to Purple Olvie for his excellent work about ISIS VBIEDs and to Oryx for his nice cover of some ISIS battles in its blog.

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