By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
The delivery of AK-104 carbines to the war-thorn country of Syria remains largely unreported, and their impact on the ground so far has been negligible. Nonetheless, they represent the increasing flow of Russian-made weaponry that continues to reach Syria on a regular basis. Syria is believed to be the first export customer to have received the carbine, which has been in limited production since the 90s. The Syrian Civil War could thus very well be the combat deput of the AK-104.
Contrary to the popular AK-74M, most of which are distributed to Syrian Arab Army and to a lesser extent the Republican Guard, the small numbers of AK-104s have largely been handed out to the so-called order keeping forces, once the Syrian equivalent of the riot police. While originally mostly a Sunni force armed with batons, shields and tear gas deployed to stadiums and during demonstrations, the leftovers were reorganized shortly after the outbreak of the revolution. Trusted elements were subsequently rearmed with more lethal weapons and now have a wide range of tasks involving maintaining order in regime-held terriority.
While the older AK-47, AKM and Type 56 would be perfectly suitable for these roles, the Syrian high command thought otherwise and allocated the carbines to the public order troops. As the size of the weapon makes it perfect for close-quarters combat, it can be expected that if larger numbers come available, they will be issued to combat troops.
The origin of the AK-104 can largely be traced back to the AK-74M, out of which the larger calibre AK-103 was developed. The AK-102, AK-104 and AK-105, chambered in 5.56×45mm, 7.62×39mm and 5.45×39mm respectively were then designed as compact versions of the AK-103, making them perfect for fighting in urban environments. The muzzle brake is similar to the one installed on the AKS-74U.
The AK-104 seen in the hands of the order keeping forces soldier uses the AKM's magazine instead of the plastic magazine usually associated with the AK-104. As seen with the AK-74M, the AK-104 features a new side-folding stock instead of the under-folding stock seen on the earlier AKS and AKMS.
Wether the continued supply of (heavy) weaponry to Syria will be enough to save a military that is increasingly dependent on foreign Shiite fighters remains to be seen. The small numbers of AK-104s will undoubtedly have little impact on the outcome of the civil war. However, these carbines represent the flow of Russian arms reaching Syria, a trade that will assuredly continue to fuel a war which has now entered its fourth year.
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