The use of ATGMs in Small Wars – The case of the Syrian opposition and the YPG in the Syrian War

The military use of tanks

After the occupation of the Sinai Peninsula of Israeli tanks in 1973 and the heavy anti-tank missile attacks, it was being said that the military use of tanks would come to an end. Especially when considering the important role of tanks in World War II, this discussion was a sign of a serious change. Tanks which were bought to great amount of money could be
detonated by soldiers with cheap ATGMs.

The popularity of ATGMs was ensured as Arabs could detonate tanks belonging to Israel with Soviet-made ATGMs. In terms of war strategies, the doubts on tanks became greater after the unsuccessful Vietnam War of America in which the power of American tanks were limited.

However the voices against the criticism of tanks also became stronger. Some military experts linked the loss of Israeli tanks to the military strategy of Israel. The main criticized point was that Israel lead its tank emplacements without the help of infantry, artillery and air-support.
There could be seen a serious decrease of loss of tanks as Israeli forces send tanks with infantry in the later stages. Therefore the opinion that the single use of tanks is not effective, became stronger rather than the ineffectiveness of tanks in the Arab-Israeli war in 1973. Acoording to this opinion tanks should be used as a part of the team in battlefields rather
being used in “Blitzkrieg“ style.

However one of the most important findings of this war is that ATGMs can be effective against tanks. If Israeli tanks can be destroyed by ATGMs then it is also possible to detonate other tanks. E.g. America got efficiency from this tactic in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, it was observed that the use of tanks were reduced to a certain extent due to the advancing UAV technology and the loss of Israeli tanks in the war against Hezbollah. It was obvious that organizations such as Hezbollah are able to cause serious damage with ATGMs to its opponents on the battlefield. Although this fact lead to the ineffectiveness of tanks, the use of tanks were yet inevitable regarding the safety of infantry. The
maneuverability of the units excluding tanks was limited which could be observed in the second Lebanon war and also in the attacks of Israel on Gaza.

EYP bombings against military shipments came particularly into question in Turkey, Iraq and Afghanistan, due to the change of infantry transport with armored vehicles. The increase of ATGMs led to a race between tanks and ATGMs. Through the mounting of reactive armors on tanks it was being tried to be more sheltered against ATGMs. One of the underlying causes of this is the difference in cost between the tanks and ATGMs. While the average price of a the A T-72 tank is around $1,000,000, a BGM-71 tow missile costs $50,000. In the long term this situation can create a serious financial hardship on the losing side who loses its tanks because of ATGMs. With reference to this information it is possible to purchase 20 BGM-71 TOW missiles with the cost of just one T-72 tank.


Protection systems against ATGMs

The impact of reactive armors of developing modern tanks against ATGMs can be clearly seen through the shot T-90-tanks by a TOW missile in the field of Syria, the shot M-60 tanks by Kornet missiles of ISIS and the two shot tanks on the Turkish-Syrian border. The fate of the T-90 tanks which were allegedly shot by the Syrian opposition is still unknown. Even though the dissident sources claim that some of them were exploded and
thus are unusable, it is still difficult commenting in regards to this claim.

Although the shot moments of these tanks could be seen in short videos, the image recording stops after the rising fire and smoke. However there are picture data about the fate of the two T-90 tanks which were shot by TOW missiles. One of these tanks was shot in February 2016. This tank which was hit by Suquor al Jabal is an important discovery in Russian reactive armor technology and American ATGMs technology competition. Proregime sources say that the attack did not suffer any casualties. After being shot by a TOW missile, the picture of the tank was published on the internet. Images show that the T-90 tank was protected by Kontakt 5 reactive armor and thus prevented the killing of the tank crew.

It is visible that the only damage of the T-90 tank is on its two shtorm transmitter. However in this picture only one side of the tank can be seen. For this reason it is not possible to say if the damage is limited by this. Further, according to the news of the Russian media the shot tank is a T-90A tank, so the first version of T-90. The available image confirmed that the tank did not explode however it is not able to be used. Thus, it came out that ATGMs can defeat modern tanks on the battlefield even if temporarily. The image of the other T-90 tank was published by the opposition. Due to the heavy damage of the T-90 tank, its crew left the tank and therefore the tank fell into the hands of the opposition:


Another information regarding the competition between ATGMs and modern tanks are the tanks which were shot by ISIS in the Turkish-Syrian border. In the published video concerning the two shot tanks it can be observed that explosions occurred, however it did not flame. This situation shows that the reactive armors of the tanks moved in and thus the tanks did not explode. In the explanation made by the Turkish Armed Forces it was already stated that the tanks did not explode and that there was not loss of life.

Furthermore there is the Turkish tank which was shot by ISIS with Kornet missile in Iraq, Bashiqa. In the video published by ISIS relating this attack there is an explosion, however due to the brevity of the video it couldn’t be seen if the tank exploded or not. Later with the image of the Turkish M60 tank, it was obvious that the reactive armor of this tank prevented a huge damage against the Kornet anti-tank missile. Another remarkable point was that in comparison tot he T-90 tank in Syria, the Turkish M60
tank was still utilizable after it was hit. This fact can be explained with two reasons: Firstly the impact of the Kornet missile may be less than the TOW missile or the Turkish M60 tank may have a better reactive armor than the Russian T-90 tank.

Note: This article deals with the anti-tank attacks before the Turkish military intervention in Syria (code-named by Turkey as Operation Euphrates Shield)


Survivability of tanks

  • Be Seen

Tanks which react, move and hit fastly during combats can survive. Therefore tanks with better situational awareness can defeat rivals. With the help of data such as intelligence and reconnaissance provided by auxiliary elements, situational awareness can be increased. Additionally some measures should be taken in order to avoid being seen by hostile elements. Due to noise and heat dissipation of tanks, radars are able to notice tanks very easily. Hence the assemble of technologies regarding various cooling systems and heat guidance have recently started. For example, the British company BAE Systems has developed an adaptive system, which is capable to spread the temperature distribution and thus can show tanks in an infrared night vision device like a car or a truck. At the same time the works on the material of the pallets have been started in order to reduce the noise of tanks.


  • If seen, don’t be the target

Making it difficult to see tanks, also prevents them to be a target. Each tank tries to give the enemy no chance to take aim. If the enemy has already taken aim, tanks try to disrupt the aim with a devastating, deceptive and confusing system and measures. The most common tactic in order to prevent enemies from targeting tanks is creating a mist cloud from the exhaust pipe and from the shooters mounted on either side of the tank. The created mist cloud is not effective against radars, radar-guided munitions and target marker systems. In this context, in accordance to information collected from radar and laser warning receivers, the mixing systems are being activated and thus trying to prevent enemies from targeting tanks. In addition to the system mixers, enemies can be shot before them aiming tanks or with a quick maneuver of the tank.

  • If become target, don’t get shot.

Armor protection will be activated, if the tank is being opened fire on and is the target. This protection varies depending on the nature of the munitions which hit the tank. If the tanks is hit by an artillery shell, there is nothing more that can be done except a quick maneuver. The high speed and high kinetic energy of the artillery shell leaves the tanks defenceless. Effective protections against unguided anti-tanks are cage type additional armors like RPG-7. Further protections are light fiber network type armors like the Tarian made by the company AMSAFE. Moreover ammunition which come from Hard kill systems, get identified and get destroyed before even targeting. These systems need extremely high performance and a 360 degree view , therefore active protection systems could only come to the mass production stage recently.


  • If hit, don’t become punctured.

When the tank is targeted and hit, the protection force of the armor can prevent the tank from becoming punctured. There are two important characteristics of armors: Hardness and toughness. Hardness is a resistance against becoming punctured and toughness is the energy absorption capability. Hardness and toughness are inversely roportional. In order to be protected against mines, armors with high toughness are used in the underbody of the tank. Whereas in the front body of the tank, armor having high hardness is used. In addition to steel, materials like ceramics, metal matrix and other are also used for armors. Further, reactive armors have been developed. Also, explosive armors have been added in blocks to the body of the tank. These blocks protect the tank by providing an explosion of the ammunition before the ammunition hit the tank. On the other hand, the tandem system which consists of two explosives was brought against ATGMs. After the first hood has detonated the reactive armor, the second hood hits the tank. The race between tanks and anti-tanks continues. While tanks are developing, anti-tanks are also improving.

  • If become punctured, don’t get destructed.

When the tank is shot, two factors come forward: The survival of the crew and the escape of the tank from the area. While the tank is getting shot, the crew can even be killed with a simple bolt. In order to avoid this, extinguishing and suppression systems in tanks move in and try to prevent an explosion and fragmentation of the tank. The movability of a tank is dependent on its engine, powertrain and on the strength of the pallet. However, the traditional weak points of a tank are its engines and the air inlet. In order to guard them, laps of pallets and durable yet not heavy materials are used.

Syrian rebels and ATGM politics:

Groups and targets

Since 2011

At the beginning of the war, after the FSA was established in June 2011, the military tactics of the dissidents were constructed according to the guerrilla-warfare order. The dissidents, who had been practicing the hit-and-run tactics, were stopping regime forces with guerrilla trap tactics and RPG shots. After the involvement of Al-Nusra, established in early 2012, effective fighting abilities against regime armors were developed from the end of 2012, as Al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other Islamic opposition groups and foreign warriors from Afghanistan and Iraq have brought experience, discipline, and doctrinal approaches. Particularly with EYP mines, armors of the regime were targeted. At that time, while the use of ATGMs were at a low level, these missiles were generally taken over by the dissidents, which was the result of the raids of the regime on weapon stores.

These war tactics, which continued until July 2013, began to turn into the line war at that time. After the first use of American made TOW missiles in Latakia in 2014 by Syrian dissidents, especially war tactics completed their evolution from the guerrilla warfare towards the wars on the front lines. The United States established logistics, operations and intelligence associations with the groups of the FSA in the south and north of Syria through MOC operation rooms established in Jordan and Turkey, knowing that with every logistical problem that every non-state armed element will face, and so being left alone as long as the war continues.

Hereby, anti-tank systems were encountered, which are able to change the war theories of non-state elements and also the irregular battlefield theories on the battlefield. The effectiveness and use of ATGMs are in comparison with RPG and Bazooka more. For example, a laser-guided Kornet missile can hit targets to 5,5 km away and the created damage is bigger than an RPG.

Analysis method

In order to investigate the use of ATGMs by rebel forces, videos uploaded to the internet within 13 months (June 2015 – July 2016) were collected and analyzed. For this purpose, 834 collected videos by @yarinah1, which show the use of ATGMs, were used as a base. Through these videos, a database was created to determine which group, where, whom, which target, when and hit by which anti-tank missile and also to know if the target was hit or not. Analyzes and infographics were created through this database. This analysis method enables the analysis of applications of ATGMs of dissidents and thus gets results. It is not possible to have all used ATGMs at that time in our database, for not every video of a used ATGM has been uploaded to the internet. Although it is possible to make analysis on the data we have obtained, it still contains some systematic errors. One of the main reasons is that videos of ATGMs, excluding the TOW missile, are not uploaded on the internet in the same intensity.

Videos which show the use of TOW missiles are being heavily uploaded on the internet. The reason may be that elements giving these missiles to the opposition are imposing this way. Another systematic error is that some opposition groups do not upload their used ATGMs on the internet. In addition to this, another error component is the videos of groups which were deleted from the internet quickly. Especially the removal of videos from the Internet of groups such as Al-Nusra and Jund al-Aqsa is a barrier to a long-term data base. Despite all these obstacles and difficulties, creating a database in a different way than the one we use is quite difficult. A database built on the basis of news about the use of ATGMs
with no proven videos will be very speculative. In addition, since the database created by the method we use, covers only the proven used ATGMs, it is possible to do analysis on a solid basis.


For the rebels in Syria, ATGMs have an important role in the war with the regime. The ATGMs used by rebel brigades:

Chinese-made HJ-8, Chinese-made HJ-73C, French-German made MILAN, Iran-made I-RAAD-T, Russian-made 9M14 Malyutka [AT-3 Sagger], Russian-made 9K111 Fagot [AT-4 Spigot], Russian-made 9M113 Konkurs [AT-5 Spandrel], Russian-made 9K115 Metis [AT-7 Saxhorn] Russian-made 9M133 Cornet [AT-14 Spriggan] and American-made BGM-71 TOW missiles.


In addition to these missiles, the rebels used the Iran-made I-RAAD-T once. It is thought that they have captured this missile from the Shia militias supported by Iran:


The intensity of the use of the ATGMs used by the opposition between June 2015 and July 2016:



Targets hit by ATGMs:

As seen, with the ATGMs used by Syrian rebels, primarily tanks and artilleries are hit. In addition to this, vehicles such as trucks, cars and jeeps and building materials as dozers are hit. Another matter which attracts attention is that ATGMs target hostile infantries intensively. Furthermore, rebels hit ATGMs of the regime intensively with anti-tanks missiles.

Another noticeable point is the shooting of 3 helicopters with ATGMs. One of these helicopters is the Russian helicopter which was shot by the rebels in the Latakia area. The Russian helicopter which came to look for the pilots of the Russian helicopter which was shot after the violation of Turkey’s air border was also shot by the 1st Coast Division by a TOW missile on that day. The other helicopter is the still standing helicopter shot by Faylaq al-Sham in Aleppo in July 2016. In addition, the Hazm Movement struck also a still standing plane in Aleppo Airport in November 2014.

Supply of missiles and external links

TOW missiles

The BGM-71 TOW missiles, produced by the American company Raytheon, was first used by the Hazm Movement in April 2014 in Syria. The cost of a TOW missile is $ 50,000. These missiles are especially used by opposition groups who work with MOC and MOM chambers. It is known that those are provided to the Syrian opposition by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Towards the end of 2013, Saudi Arabia bought 15,000 TOW missiles from the US for $ 1.1 billion. It is claimed that a certain part of these missiles were sent to Syria. It is also thought that the CIA plays an active role in the distribution of the TOW missiles. In general, groups work with these MOC and MOM chambers, however even if little there are also a few groups, who capture TOW missiles in battles and in other ways and use them. For example, al-Nusra captured and used a certain amount of TOW missiles in his battle with the Hazm Movement. It is also known that Faylaq al-Rahman, for example, used the TOW missile once in the deserts of East Kalamun. These missiles are important especially against armored and artillery units, in order to soften the enemy militia on the front line before attack for.


Another effective area of use is the shootings aimed at stopping the opponent’s attacks. This type of use was particularly evident in the air- assisted Russian attack of the regime on Hama in October. This intensity in the use of the TOW missiles was assessed as a response to Russia’s intervention in Syria at that time. Another fact is that the use of TOW missiles is directly related to the political conjuncture. For example, during the agreed upon military conflictless period under the leadership of Russia and America, the use of the TOW missiles was very low:


Since the distribution of the TOW missiles is considered by the CIA in the MOC and MOM chambers, the use of the TOW missiles enables the recognition of the relationship of the opposition groups with MOC and MOM chambers and thus to the United States:


The Nureddin Zengi Movement, linked to the Fatah Halab operation room, reported that their relations with the US were over and thus they were going through difficult times, and also they pointed out that because of material insufficiencies some of their seizure points were transferred to al-Nusra and Ahmad al-Sham, while the leader of the movement Abu Tawfiq stated that they fight both the regime and YPG in the center and west of Aleppo. Although the purchase of anti-tank happens through the Fatah Halab operation room according to secondary sources, there is doubt about the validity of this claim. It is also known that the external links of the Nureddin Zengi group are still continuing and that they are also continuing to work with the Friends of Syria Group.

Faylaq al-Sham shows itself up in total 19 close and in five different ramparts which come together as a structure. The unit who is active in Humus, Hama and Aleppo and has together with the Army of Conquest (Jaish al-Fatah) various fields of activity in Idlib and Latakia, has also a wing that is a member of the Council of the Syrian Revolutionaries under the leadership of the FSA, as well as a group of the armed struggle wing of the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria (Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimun fi Suriya). It is thought that some of the units of the inner circle of the group are fighting in Azez region in the north of Aleppo with Qatar and Turkey supporting them while the southern wings are acting together with the Army of Conquest against the common denominator which is the Assad regime, its allies and IS and PKK.

The diversity of relationships that the structure of the group shows, often leads to a reference to the US and thus to secret use of TOW missiles. Faylaq al-Sham doesn’t expose these missile systems in the videos of TOW missiles. Therefore the analysis of the missiles flight, color and noise indicated that Faylaq al-Sham used 15 TOW missiles, but the 16 other ATGMs could not be determined:


A remarkable point about the usage of TOW missiles of Faylaq al-Sham is that they have a joint activity alongside the Army of Conquest. It is the only group that acts jointly with the the Army of Conquest and uses TOW missiles. The results of the analysis show that the usage areas of 15 TOW missiles match at a low rate with the active battlefields of the Army of Conquest. TOW missiles were used on the Gab levels in February 2015 and on the fronts where the Army of Conquest was active in Halsa in June 2016. However, 13 shots beyond the use of these two TOW missiles have been on the front lines where the Army of Conquest is not active. Faylaq al-Sham generally uses the logo of the Fatah Halab operation room in its videos of the TOW missiles.


Training on Tow missiles and its Effect on Relationships between groups

The intensity of the use of TOW missiles of opponent groups varies. While some groups routinely use the intensive TOW missiles, the use of the TOW missiles by other groups is less intense. The results of our analysis indicate that groups such as Jaish Al-Nasr, Suquor al- Jabal and 1st Coast Division are using a large number of TOW missiles. It is also seen that groups such as the Syrian Revolutionary Front, the Muattasim Billah and the Mujahideen Army use just few TOW missiles. Another fact is that Jaish Al-Nasr, Suquor al Jabal, 1st Coast Division, Northern Front, Jaish al-Izzah, 13th Regiment, el-İzze, , Sultan Murad Division, Thuwar al-Sham and the Central Division get serious support of TOW missiles. Also it can be said that the relations of these groups with America are effective.



It is known that some Syrian rebels are trained in Jordan and Qatar. It is claimed that during this training some of the fighters are trained regarding the use of ATGMs. However, the famous TOW user Abu Omar, known as “the father of TOW”, says that he never received any training, but that he could shoot the target in the first attempt. He died on 25 October 2015 in the regime’s air strike. Before his death, it was told that he was active in the Jaish al-Nasr group and shot 150 armored targets. Another rumor is that it he was especially chosen and shot by the regime. Many dissidents using the TOW missiles are using more TOW missiles than American soldiers, and they are hitting more targets with TOW missiles. Therefore, it is true to say that Syrian rebels are more experienced than US soldiers in using TOW missiles.

The impact of TOW missiles on relations between rebels

TOW missiles have an important influence on the relations between the rebels. This effect is existential for some dissident groups. Most of the FSA groups in the İdlib region, where the Army of Conquest (Jaish al-Fatah) and especially the al-Nusra are strong, maintain themselves with the help of TOW missiles. These groups, which do not have a considerable military number, are not able to survive in case of a battle with organizations such as al-Nusra and Jund al-Aqsa, which show ideological differences. This situation has also been seen in the past. For example, the battle of the Syrian Revolution Front with al-Nusra, led by Jamal Maarouf, resulted in loss of its presence in northern Syria in a short time. Balance of power is not the only reason for this. Claims that Jamal Maarouf takes bribes and is stealing, have made the Syrian Revolution Front an unpopular actor in the region.

In addition, after his attack on al-Nusra, he lost his legitimacy in the face of other opponent groups. The Hazm Movement is another group that has been liquidated by al-Nusra by force of arms. This group is characterized by being the first group to use TOW missiles. Following the clashes that started with this group, the court was established under the influence of other opposition groups and the Hazm Movement participated in the Levant Front (Jabhat al-Shamiyah), the pioneer of the Fatah Halab operation room. Despite the establishment of the court, a group of Hazm Movement members attacked al- Nusra and thus the al-Nusra declared war again on the Hazm Movement. After the declaration of war, following the wars in western Aleppo, the Hazm movement declared the dissolution of the group and so its members were scattered among other FSA groups in the Aleppo region. During this process, al-Nusra captured a certain amount of TOW missiles from the Hazm Movement and used them against the regime.

Following these events, the Army of Conquest (Jaish al-Fatah) led by Ahrar al-Sham and al- Nusra was established. Consequence of the İdlib attack initiated by the Army of Conquest was the seizure of Idlib, al- Mastumah, Ariha, Jisr ash-Shugur and the northern part of the Ghab Plains. One fact that is noteworthy in these attacks is the role played by groups using TOW missiles. In the attacks done by the Army of Conquest, the TOW groups had an important influence in terms of military. They shot the armored troops on the front lines to soften the front lines before the attack. In addition, by shooting the pro-regime military troops and the support troops sent by militia, through the supply routes, they gave the Army of Conquest an important advantage. Another method of use is to shoot the pro-regime troops escaping from the front lines, with the TOW missiles. Especially on the Ariha – Jisr ash- Shugur highway, they seriously caused many casualties to the regime. As a consequence of these casualties the regime couldn’t restructure itself and were unable to attack back, and thus the rebels advanced to the Ghab plains.


As seen here, organizations such as al-Nusra are in need of TOW missiles and therefore other groups using TOW missiles, in battles conducted against pro-regime military units and militia. The Army of Conquest tolerates these groups, even though they use the front lines under the influence of the groups using the TOW. Although it is known that groups such as the 1st Seas Division, Jaish al-Nasr and Liwa Suqour al-Jabal are American-supported, there is a very pragmatic relationship regarding the common target on the front lines due to the influence of the TOW missiles.

What is noteworthy at this point are the problems that al-Nusra and the 13th Brigade have experienced at the beginning of March 2016 in Maarat al-Numaan. Al-Nusra and the 13th Brigade in Maarat al-Numaan accused each other of attacking their headquarters and killing their warriors. Al-Nusra subsequently confiscated the 13th Brigade’s headquarters and imprisoned the leading warriors and commanders in the region. As a consequence people’s demonstrations began in Maarat al-Numaan. The main demand of these demonstrations was the release of the 13th Brigade’s warriors and commanders, and the return of their weapons. Another thing that draws attention is that al-Nusra didn’t open fire on these people’s demonstrations and also did not forcefully distribute them. The result of such a move would create a problem with Ahrar al-Sham and would cause an image loss and thus this affected the attitude of al-Nusra in this direction, according to some.

In the process, al-Nusra and the 13th Brigade decided to carry the incidents between them to court whereupon al-Nusra released the warriors and commanders of the 13th Brigade. While the demonstrations and demands of the people of Maarat al-Numaan against al-Nusra continued in May, the presence of al-Nusra, as well as the 13th Brigade, among the opposition forces fighting the Shia militias in southern Aleppo clarifies the relationship between the opposition of the TOW missiles. As seen in the graphic below, it draws attention that the 13th Brigade uses TOWs in the same front as al-Nusra in regions such as Khan Tuman in this process. Groups that do not possess TOW missiles tolerate these groups due to their need for TOW groups on the front even though they are capable to destroy these groups.


Other missiles and hit ratio

Use of other ATGMs

Most of the other ATGMs used by Syrian rebels were obtained as booties from the regime. The seizure of these by rebels takes place basically in three ways. Firstly; the ATGMs that were brought along by the Soldiers who left the Syrian army and joined the FSA in the early periods, when the war started, or ATGMs purchased from regime officers. However, it is estimated that the number of ATGMs coming through these ways is very little. Another source is the booty obtained from the wars. Among them ATGMs were found. The last source is the shipment of ATGMs made from abroad. Other researches indicated that the MOC gives weapons which are from Balkan states, to the dissidents. Although various weapons are provided to the rebels in such ways, ATGMs are not seen among the determined weapons. The fact that none of the Balkan states have ATGMs used by rebels, in their inventories reveals the reason why there are no ATGMs found in this research. Therefore, it can be predicted that these ATGMs come from other countries in other ways. It can be seen clearly that the ATGMs coming from abroad are especially Fagot missiles. The fact, that the regime does not use the Fagot missile much and the groups that use the Fagot missiles also use the TOW missiles intensively at the same time, strengthens the estimates in this direction.


The fact that in the use of other than the Fagot missiles the presence of Ahrar al-Sham and Faylaq al-Sham are intensive and the number of other TOW groups is few, strengthens the thesis that the majority of these ATGMs are taken from the regime through loot.

The result of the video analysis shows that, in the period between June 2015 and July 2016, 21 TOW-missile shots and the 5 Malyutka ATGMs that the rebels used did not meet the target. Despite the fact that other ATGMs, which are not loaded on the internet, didn’t hit targets, it can be said that the overwhelming majority of ATGMs used by rebels hit targets.


The result of the video analysis shows that, in the period between June 2015 and July 2016, 21 TOW-missile shots and the 5 Malyutka ATGMs that the rebels used did not meet the target. Despite the fact that other ATGMs, which are not loaded on the internet, didn’t hit targets, it can be said that the overwhelming majority of ATGMs used by rebels hit targets.



YPG, which operates in the north of Syria, does not regularly take or broadcast the videos of the ATGMs it uses, but it publishes the uses of ATGMs with high propaganda force as videos or pictures. For this reason it is difficult to obtain the exact information, like from the opposition, but a general framework can be drawn for the issue. What might be missing are data, such as the numbers and targets in the use of ATGMs. There are significant information about the origin, usage area of the ATGMs used by YPG, ATGMs of the PKK and the ATGMs used against Turkey.

Before Ayn al-Arab

Before the war in Ayn al-Arab (Kobanî), YPG did not experience so intense battles in Syria. Assad knows that its regime withdrew from the regions where the Kurdish population was predominant in the early days of the war and left the provinces largely to PYD and also that there had been no serious conflicts between the regime and PYD-YPG since the beginning of the war. YPG has had no major war except for conflicts with Syrian opposition. However, in this period, the YPG obtained ATGMs even though it was a small number from the black market and used some against the Syrian opposition. In his speech to the Sunday Times newspaper dated 07/12/2015, Bashar al-Assad clearly stated that he has helped the YPG with arms. In addition to this, there is no information in the direction of anti-tank missile shipment from abroad to YPG.

(Video) An anti-tank attack from YPG in northern Syria in 2013.

It is seen that the number of ATGMs known to have been used in this period by YPG against rebels is very little, and that these missiles are Konkurs and Cornet missiles which arein the inventory of the regime. It is also known that the YPG has captured several old model Milan missiles. The German Member of Parliament of the left-wing party “DIE LINKE” Jan van Aken visited the YPG troops in Kamışlı in January 2014 and him was shown the mentioned Milan missile. According to the information provided by the YPG, this old model Milan was acquired in the war against the rebels. The rebels are thought to have probably taken these ATGMs from the regime. It is known that in 1978, France gave 4400 old model Milan ATGMs to the Syrian regime.

Milan missiles given to YPG during the Ayn al-Arab wars

(Video) Anti-tank missile used by YPG against ISIS in Ayn al-Arab in September 2014

The German reporter Kurt Pelda, who travelled to the Syrian territory and was on the Ayn al- Arab border during the Al-Arab wars, gave important information about the issue to the Spiegel newspaper. According to Kurt Pelda, American transportation planes helped YPG with weapons before ISIS entered the Ayn al-Arab city. The YPG then used the Milan missiles against the tanks in the possession of ISIS. Kurt Pelda stated that the Milan missiles are not of the old models of those missiles given by France in 1978. As these missiles are a new model, Kurt Pelda defends that these ATGMs were thrown out of the air by the USA. This information contradicts the general perception. The general perception, as it will be described below, is that the Milan missiles given to YPG come from Germany.

Milan missiles from Germany

During the war in Iraq, the German state decided to support the Peshmerga forces against ISIS and make weapon shipments. After this decision, Milan ATGMs came to the forefront among intensive arms shipments. The new model of Milan missiles were delivered to the Peshmerga forces and a number on Peshmerga forces were trained in Iraq and Germany for its use. Although the German government has said in parliament that maximum measures will be taken to prevent these weapons from being handed over to third parties, it has been reported that the new model of Milan ATGMs have also been conquered by the YPG and the PKK. According to some allegations, it is claimed that the Peshmerga forces sold the Milan missiles to YPG and PKK, however it is also alleged that Germany itself gave these missiles to YPG and the PKK. In the videos and pictures shared from Syria it is seen that YPG uses the new model Milan missiles. However it is not known where YPG has received the training required for the use of these missiles. The large number of Milan missiles cartridges found in a garbage dump in Adana in Turkey confirms the fact that these ATGMs are in the hands of the PKK and that they have entered Turkey. The fact that the Milan cartridges were found in Adana brings another question up. Here, it is alleged that from the PKK’s routes for weapons delivery the only route to Adana is the route starting from Afrin and going over the Nur Mountains. It is believed that the only possible way, how the Milan missiles come to the Afrin district is with air. This leads to question marks as to whether America have taken the Milan missiles with the air to the Afrin region or not.

PKK’s supply routes to Turkey via YPG


It is claimed that the YPG is forming domination in the north of Syria resulting that there exists a safe zone for the PKK. It is believed that the PKK organization has trained its warriors in the YPG region and uses the region as a retreat. It is estimated that YPG and the PKK may have passivity among the warriors there as it is claimed that they act jointly in the hierarchy called the KCK structure.

It is argued that the majority of the ammunition and weapons that the PKK used in its attacks in Turkey came from the YPG region in North Syria. Accordingly, it is preliminarily considered that all kinds of weapons and equipment shipments, including ATGMs, are delivered in this way. Therefore it is estimated that the general routes used for this are concentrated in four locations. The first of these is the shipment to the Nur Mountains via the Afrin region border line, while in the Ayn al-Arab (Kobanî) region, it is thought that weapon shipments to the Suruç region in Turkey are made through secret routes and smugglers, and however the last two remaining supply lines do not have any significant features. As it is known, America has established an air base in the Rumeylan area, under the control of YPG. It is known that in this air base America has both training of YPG warriors and weapons assistance. Amuda and Kamışlı, which are very close to the Rumeylan region, are believed to be the third replenishment route of the PKK. Accordingly, weapons are shipped to Nusaybin via the third supply route. As mentioned in the claim, the fourth replenishment route in Al-Malikiyya is also very close to Rumeylan. From here, arms shipments are being made to the Cizre region.

The Javelin anti-tank missile

The Javelin anti-tank missile is a more modern and effective missile than the other TOW, Konkurs and Cornet missiles. The Javelin anti-tank missile is more mobile and with being heat-driven, it hits its target. At the same time, it is effective against reactive armors with its double explosion system. In Syria, there is no group other than YPG which possesses these missiles. Although YPG published images with Javelin ATGMs, it is said that in the videos of the use in the al-Shaddadi area, American special units use the Javelin missiles. In this sense, it later emerged, in an image published from the al-Shaddadi area, that the American Special Forces uses the Javelin anti-tank missile.

ATGMs used by PKK and YPG against Turke

During the past period, the PKK has released the video of the attack on the Turkish military base in Uludere. It appears that an anti-tank missile has been used in this published video. According to the video analysis, it turns out that the used missile is either Konkurs or Cornet. The PKK is believed to have brought the anti-tank missile to this region, probably by Syria al- Malikiyya. Although the main source of this anti-tank missile is unknown, it is thought that the the anti-tank missile may be one of the missiles the regime gave to YPG. Other possibilities are that the missile was either obtained from the black market or from foreign powers or from other groups in the war. A Turkish tank was also shot by a German-made Milan missile by the PKK in the Sirnak base area. It has been tried to explain above, with allegations regarding this issue, how the Milan missile used here, passed to YPG and then to the PKK.

Lastly, it is noteworthy that Turkey has two Turkish tanks, shot by YPG in the framework of the Operation Euphrates Shield. According to the press report, a tank was hit with a Cornet missile, and the other tank with a Milan missile, or both were hit with the Cornet missile. YPG published a video on the internet, in which it is seen how one Turkish tank is shot by the anti-tank missile. As a result of analysis, it is thought that the used anti-tank missile is a Cornet missile. The flickering of the missile in flight and the not straight flight indicate that it is not a Milan missile. The color and the image of the missile on the journey is probably a signal to a Cornet missile. This analysis overlaps with the information reflected in the press.

Footnote: In this analysis researches from accounts such as Levent Kemal (@ValkryV), @QalaatAlmudiq, @ yarinah1 and @ bm21_grad have been used.

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