Saturday, 16 April 2016

Islamic State captures masses of Iranian-supplied weaponry near Khanasir

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

An Islamic State offensive near Khanasir, Eastern Aleppo, managed to overrun defending forces, capturing several checkpoints nearby and large amounts of weaponry stocked there in the process. The town of Khanasir, a dusty and deserted place carrying without a doubt the heaviest strategic weight on its shoulders of any town of its kind in Syria. The highway that runs through it is effectively the only access route to embattled Aleppo, and the Islamic State's advances mean that regime forces fighting in the city might soon be completely cut off for some time. This is also the reason why when the Islamic State first captured the town back in late February, the regime was quick to launch an offensive to take back the town, which happened several days later. Nonetheless, the Islamic State's losses were relatively low and the attention the offensive received made it a propaganda victory if not a strategic one. The amount of ghaneema (spoils of war) captured was also substantial, consisting of several tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery and small arms. The Islamic State's second assault on the city and its surroundings appears to have trumped even these earlier gains, as masses of Iranian-supplied small arms and munitions to even a Sarab-1 equipped T-72M1 fell in the hands of the fighters of the Islamic State.

The many checkpoints covering the road going through Khanasir have in typical Syrian Arab Army (SyAA) fashion always been overstocked with arms, resulting large amounts of weaponry being captured by the Islamic State that were dumped around the base as there simply was no personnel to man them. This situation also led to the first capture of Khanasir, where the local garrison found itself unable to counter the swift and unexpected push on the town. After quickly recapturing the town, the new garrison left to defend the town and its surroundings did not only consist of local SyAA and National Defence Force (NDF) fighters, but also of Iraqi Shiite militias and even Iranian soldiers. Indeed, while already obvious by the large amounts of Iranian weaponry, Iranian clothing and Iranian documents, one Iranian helmet captured by fighters of the Islamic State clearly reads: 'IR Army'.

While the fighters of the Islamic State did capture soldiers after gaining control over several checkpoints, all of them were Syrian, raising questions about the amount of Iraqi and Iranian soldiers actually stationed here. Although some of the Iranian equipment could obviously have been used by Syrian soldiers, the presence of [patch] and Iranian military gear (including a helmet with "IR army" written on it) leaves no doubt about the presence of foreign fighters. Whether these fled in the face of Islamic State soldiers or simply withdrew during the fighting is unknown.

The spoils left behind also illustrate the continuously growing influence of foreign military equipment on the conflict: Islamic State forces can now be deen operating anything from the Iranian equipment and newly delivered Russian field guns to U.S.-made weaponry

While it is unlikely the Islamic State will be able to capture huge swats of lands and retain them like they did in previous years, quick and well executed offensives as seen lately in Dmeyr, Northern Aleppo and now Eastern Aleppo will continue to provide the Islamic State with new weaponry, and may delay its inevitable downfall significantly.

This is an approximate guess of the captured weapons and ammunition featured in the photo report. The content of at 89 least crates could not be identified, but are likely to be artillery shells.


- 19,330 rounds of 7.62x39 and 7.62x54R ammunition.
- 430 rounds of 12.7x99 ammunition.
- 90 rounds of 12.7x108 ammunition.
- 2634 rounds of 23mm ammunition.
- 116 rounds of 60mm ammunition.
- 30 rounds of 106mm ammunition.
- 3 rounds of 107mm ammunition.
- 2 rounds of 120mm ammunition.
- 30 rounds of 122mm MRL ammunition.
- 7 rounds of 3BK14 125mm ammunition.
- 1 round of 3BM-44 125mm ammunition.
- 45 rounds of artillery ammunition.
- 43 charges for artillery rounds.
- 98 (PG)-7 (Nader) rocket-propelled grenades.
- 7 RPG boosters.
- 39 grenades.


- 65 7.62mm AK(M)-47s (KL).
- 5 7.62mm PKMs.
- 2 7.62mm SVD Dragunov.
- 1 7.62mm PSL.
- 1 12.7mm HS.50 (AM.50)
- 1 12.7mm DShK.
- 1 14.5mm KPV.
- 8 RPG-7s.
- 2 Type-69s.
- 1 60mm mortar.
- 1 81mm mortar.
- 1 73mm SPG-9
- 1 130mm M-46 field gun.
- 2 122mm D-74 field gun.
- 1 152mm D-20 howitzer.
- 1 M40 106mm RCL.


- 1 T-72M1 (equipped with the Sarab-1).
- 1 BMP-1
- 1 122mm 2S1 Gvozdika.
- 1 Safir.
- 1 GAZ-3308s.
- 1 Tatra 148.
- 1 Tatra 815s.
- 1 truck.
- 6 technicals.
- 3 bulldozers.
- 2 motorcycles.

Interestingly, the T-72M1 encountered during the offensive is the first Sarab-1 equipped vehicle to have been captured by opponents of the regime. Covered by the means of tarp on this T-72M1, the exact role of the Sarab-1 is still debated upon but has been deployed on a range of vehicles and checkpoints. It likely makes uses of infrared lamps to confuse the TOW's gunner, thus missing its intended target. Also captured was a single BMP-1.

Also encountered were five artillery pieces, making up most of heavy armament captured during this offensive. One 122mm Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer, one 130mm M-46 field gun, two 122mm D-74 field gun and one 152mm D-20 howitzer fell in the hands of the fighters of the Islamic State. Both the D-20 and D-74 were delivered by Russia to Syria in the past year, and were not present in the arsenals of the SyAA before the start of the Civil War.

Some of the technicals to have fallen in the hands of the Islamic State, including the infamous Iranian designed and produced Safir 4x4, here seen armed with a M40 106mm recoilless rifle (RCL). A CF Moto 800 series, mostly seen in use with Suqour al-Sahraa' (Desert Falcons).

Three trucks, two of Czechoslovak descent. The oldest, the Tatra 148 can already be seen being loaded with captured ammuntion, likely to be transported further away from the frontline for distribution to other fronts. The Tatra 815 and Russian GAZ-3308 represent some of the more modern trucks in service with the SyAA. Three bulldozers, one of which with protective steel installed around its wheels were also captured.

Small arms, including everything from a Soviet Mosin-Nagant rifle to an Iranian 60mm mortar. Several AK-47s upgraded with picatinny rails, allowing for the installment for sights and other gadgets, were also encountered. These rifles are almost exclusively seen in use with Iraqi fighters, which more often than not take their personal weapons with them from Iraq.

Almost all of the ammunition was Iranian supplied, and includes both recently produced products and ammunition produced in the seventies. Although 122mm multiple rocket launcher (MRL) was pictured, the presence of thirty 122mm rounds indicates a single-barrelled launcher is likely present somewhere. As often seen, crates and products are labeled both in Farsi and English.

Small arms ammunition, much of which of Iranian origin too. Although a large number of 23mm rounds were captured, no 23mm guns were seen among the spoils, making it likely the trucks or technicasl they were put on left the scene before the Islamic State took over.

What is believed to be Iranian and (Shiite) Iraqi military gear, left behind by the soldiers formerly stationed here. Images released by the Islamic State showed around a dozen fighters fleeing from their checkpoints, undoubtedly also including Iranian soldiers and Shiite fighters from Iraq.

Article written in collaboration with MENA_Conflict from Type 63: A collection of Musings on Middle East Conflict.

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  1. Its clear IS isn't going anywhere. SDF has even stalled out, unable to prevent IS raids deep into its lines.

    SAA even with Russian Air Support can't take el-Eis back and was repulsed yet again at Handarat and Mallah Farms.

    Obama leaves office in a few months, and if Trump wins, he is pulling the plug and telling Putin you got this. Sanders wins, he is also pulling the plug.

    Either way we look at it, only FSA, AQ, and the Taliban can defeat IS. Everyone else inadvertently makes them stronger.

    If Obama had thrown full support to the FSA back in 2014 we wouldn't be in this mess. But he didn't and backed the SDF who are terrorists and a threat to Turkey a NATO member and helped plunged Turkey into a mini civil war.

    Now Maliki is starting to come back into power in Iraq.

    1. Yes, because the "FSA" VSOs at Al-Rai did such an amazing job fighting off ISIS that they abandoned M16s, M240s and K-6 mortars when they retreated against a lightning IS assault. Every single force that has battled IS in Syria has lost at least a few battles against them, including AQ and the FSA.

      Face it, it's not the specific type of force that is confronting them but IS's own abilities to probe for weakness and launch swift assaults that have given them the advantage at a tactical level.

    2. Seven captured, but no vehicles, only light weapons they couldn't destroy in time.

      You also miss the part where FSA got slammed by IS, Regime, and SDF all at once on that day and nearly lost Shaykh Isa to SDF terrorists, but repulsed the attacks and retook the majority of the villages they lost.

      Right now, FSA is fighting a mobile battle against an equally mobile IS force while beating back SDF Human Wave assaults on Azaz and Shaykh Isa without air support, only Turkish Artillery Support.

    3. It is amazing you think AQ/Taliban are solutions when they are the reasons why the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is taking so long. The Islamic State was formerly AQ in Iraq in case you did not know.

    4. @Golladay: That's not what Amaq Agency showed in their release - they showed at least five pickups plus other vehicles (including some of the brand new white Land Cruisers that were being used in the offensive), as well as various weaponry.

      You miss the point that the FSA isn't some contiguous unit - those FSA units fighting in Al-Rai came from Turkey, not the Azaz pocket, and the SDF haven't launched a serious assault on FSA positions in Azaz (probably because of the American reluctance to lend them air support). Keep in mind, the FSA units in North Aleppo that were on the offensive were fresh, some were American-trained, and they were backed up by experienced Ahrar Al-Sham fighters. Despite all that, they still had to fall back. That does not speak highly of their quality anymore than the performance of the NDF/Militias in Khanasser.

    5. @Anonymous

      So they have White Landcruisers with IS as well. But again, the loss was minimal compared to what SyAA regularly loses.

      Plus SDF was hitting the FSA around Azaz at the same time instead of IS and fighting the Regime. They still prevented a full route and retook ground quickly and as we speak are back on the edge of el-Rai.

      Also the bulk of the fighters were from Azaz and they have been fighting for years in that region. They are facing an equally experienced foe who massed heavy forces against them, more than intelligence led them to believe. Now they are back on the edge of el-Rai and moving to retake it.

    6. Thanks for bringing that point up, other Syrian rebel groups such as Ahrar al sham and Jaish al Islam have had moderate success lately holding IS back, yet we don't hear about any acknowledgement about that.

  2. Oryx,

    Can you link me to the video ISIS released for this attack. Also, I check frequently for new posts in "Wilayat Halab, Khayr, Hims, and Dimashq" but I don't find recent ones which have popped up on Twitter or in your blog. Can you help me find some of these videos?


  3. Oryx,

    Why do you think the Islamic State is pushing towards Khanasir instead of fighting off YPG near Manbij?

    1. Because the Manbij front doesn't allow for large troop concentrations, supported by artillery and armour, due to the presence of Coalition aircraft in the skies. Advancing on locations such as Khanasir is much easier, not at least because the troops defending the many checkpoints are poorly trained.

  4. Oryx, can you please have a better organization when it comes to your previous articles? It would save your readers a lot of time if you organized your articles by their titles instead of them keep going down from one article to the next.

    1. Thanks for your suggestion, we'll look into it. For the time being you can use the tab 'Blog Archive' to see what has been posted in each month.

  5. Are those romanian psl sniper rifles?

  6. Dude i dont See the iranian H50cal. In ur list with captured rifles ?? U forgot it If im correct

  7. Obama made isis as strong as they are he pulled our troops outta Iraq gave them equipment they weren't trained properly with an basically made the country open for the taken an then trust Iran to bring stability to the region haha he just gave them the power to build there nukes so they can fry us THANX OBAMA GROW A SET UR SUPPOSE TO BE THE LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD OUR FOUR FATHER'S ARE ROLLING IN THERE GRAVES

  8. I see the rails on the handguards on the AK's
    But I see no sights mounted on the rails
    The addition of a red dot sight brings the AK into the modern age and greatly increases hit probability at all ranges.
    The Russians have added red dots ( usually on a side rail) to their troops AK's
    I am amazed that this advance has not been embraced by soldiers in Syria and Iraq