By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
The Syrian Civil War has seen a range of major arms hauls by various parties as weapons depots get overrun, captured and in many cases simply abandoned by retreating forces. The capture of Regiment 121, Brigade 93 and the Mahin arms depot have until now topped the list in terms of ghaneema (spoils of war). Regiment 121 provided the Islamic State with large numbers of field-guns and MRLs while Brigade 93 saw the capture of at least thirty tanks and around a dozen howitzers. Mahin became notorious for providing its capturers (Jaish al-Islam and the Free Syrian Army) with hundreds of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). For this reason, Mahin was seen as the largest and most important haul of arms during the now five-year long Civil War.
But that reputation appears to have been surpassed now that footage (WARNING: EXTREMELY GRAPHIC. Advised to only watch from 12:55 onwards) showing the capture of the Ayyash weapons depot by fighters of the Islamic State in Deir ez-Zor has been released. The video, the fourth in the series 'Support from God, and imminent victory' (Quran verse 61:13) is the fourth to have been released showing the Islamic State's operations in and around Deir ez-Zor. The contents of the weapon depot, captured on the 20th of January, were supposedly removed before the Islamic State took over according to pro-regime sources. Now that the war reached its fifth year, this appears to be some language code for 'The weapon depots were completely overstocked, brace yourselves on every front'. And thus, no less than 2 million rounds of (small) arms ammunition, 9000 grenades and a hundred ATGMs were among the spoils of Ayyash, making the capture of this weapon depot the largest ever in Syria. A detailed list of captured ammunition, weaponry and vehicles can be seen below.
This is an approximate guess of the captured weapons and ammunition featured in the video of the Ayyash weapon depot, the real figures are believed to be much higher. The content of at least 2600 crates could not be identified.
- 1,348,300 to 1,791,960 rounds of 7.62x39 and 7.62x54R ammunition.
- 17,140 rounds of 12.7mm ammunition.
- 158,996 rounds of 14.5mm ammunition.
- 119,768 rounds of 20mm ammunition.
- 450 rounds of 23mm ammunition.
- 223 rounds of 73mm ammunition.
- 72 rounds of 82mm ammunition.
- 2000 rounds of 85mm ammunition.
- 6 rounds of 107mm ammunition.
- 4 rounds of 120mm ammunition.
- 165 rounds of 120mm RAP ammunition.
- 576 rounds of 122mm ammunition.
- 1120 fuses for 122mm artillery rounds.
- 7 PG-2 rocket-propelled grenades.
- 10 PG-7 rocket-propelled grenades.
- 1 PG-7VL rocket-propelled grenade.
- 1 TBG-7V rocket-propelled grenade.
- 1 OG-7V rocket-propelled grenade.
- 2 PG-29V rocket-propelled grenades.
- 2 M-57 rocket-propelled grenades.
- 9025 grenades.
- 36 rifle grenades.
- 98 9M14M Malyutka ATGMs.
- 1 9M113M Konkurs ATGMs.
- 7 3M9 surface-to-air missiles.
- 84 7.62mm AK(M)-47s.
- 5 7.62mm PKMs.
- 1 7.62mm RPD.
- 1 7.62mm SGM.
- 3 12.7mm DShK(M)s.
- 11 14.5mm KPVs.
- 2 23mm ZU-23s.
- 1 RPG-2.
- 13 RPG-7s.
- 1 73mm 2A28 Grom.
- 1 M40 106mm RCL.
- 122 bayonets.
- 1 pistol.
- 1 flintlock.
Vehicles (derelict trucks not included):
- 1 T-55(A)MV.
- 2 T-55As.
- 5 BMP-1s.
- 1 23mm ZSU-23.
- 1 BRDM-2.
- 1 BTR-152.
- 2 BREM-2 ARVs.
- 3 2P25 TELs.
- 1 SURN 1S19 radar.
- 6 ZiL-131s.
- 2 GAZ-3308s.
- 2 GAZ-66s.
- 2 Ural-375Ds.
- 1 KamAZ-53212.
- 1 MAZ-5336
- 1 Tatra 815.
- 1 GAZ Sobol.
- 1 UAZ-469.
- 2 excavators.
- 1 Land Rover Defender.
- 2 technicals.
- 3 trucks.
- 4 cars.
Figures made available by the Islamic State:
- 400 killed or injured.
- 100 [pro-regime militants] captured.
- 4 tanks captured.
- 10 BMPs captured.
- 3 guns captured.
- 350 tank shells captured.
- 7,000 shells and rockets captured.
- 30 rocket launchers captured.
- 100 anti-armor rockets captured.
- 410 anti-armor shells captured.
- 1,000s of hand grenades captured.
- Tons of various ammo captured.
Having so much ammunition and weaponry stationed so close to a fragile frontline that is incapable of dealing with large Islamic State attacks is a sign of extremely incompetent military planning. This is especially true when considering the immensely large 137th Brigade's base located nearby has plenty of space to house tenfold the contents of Ayyash. This base is located much closer to the airbase and Deir ez-Zor's city centre and thus better capable of dividing the munitions between the defenders of Deir ez-Zor. To lose the largest weapon arsenal ever to have been captured in the war due to nothing other than poor planning and above all laziness raises the issue of whether the current organisation in charge of regime operations is capable of dealing with the situation it faces. Instead, units such as the ones commanded by Suheil 'The Tiger' al-Hassan and Issam 'The Lion' Zahreddine are constantly being relocated to positions that had previously been abandoned by other regime forces. One such example is Tadmur, where the Syrian Arab Army only barely fled away faster than the Islamic State could push forward. As a result, a small force which had the goal of capturing the town of al-Sukhna suddenly found itself amidst the ruins of Palmyra (Tadmur). The international outcry resulting from Islamic State released productions showing the partial destruction of the ancient town could perhaps have been partially diverted at the regime for making no serious effort to defend it, which surprisingly received no media attention at all. Of course, military priorities are unlikely to lie with the protection of cultural heritage during a war of this intensity, but the sheer fact that the entire population of Tadmur as well as its archaeological sites were left behind without conquest purely due to the employment of poor military strategy signifies a recurring problem within the Syrian Arab Army.
Back to Ayyash, located a mere ten kilometers north-west from Deir ez-Zor's city centre, which was the scene of heavy fighting as fighters of the Islamic State pushed their way into the town and surrounding sites. As the regime has to defend Deir ez-Zor with only a limited amount of personnel, it has been forced to spread its troops thinly along the perimeter, with the main bulk stationed near Deir ez-Zor's airbase, the city centre and surrounding hills. The Islamic State has focused its attacks mainly on the airbase and the town, which has seen bitter fighting ever since the start of the Civil War, but especially since the Islamic State took over from the Free Syrian Army in July 2014.
Ayyash, defended by a mix of NDF troops, SyAA personnel from the 137th Brigade and detachments of the Republican Guard's 104th Brigade, sees a perimeter that was less well defended by troops not matching the performance of the soldiers stationed elsewhere in Deir ez-Zor. Indeed, some of the soldiers stationed here were formely tasked with manning the nearby surface-to-air missile site, but were then armed and tasked with defending Ayyash itself. While this careful balancing of troops in Ayyash appears quite logical, it becomes less so when considering the fact that Ayyash is home to a weapons depot once built as a strategic reserve for a possible confrontation with Ba'athist Iraq, then the fourth largest army in the world. While the contents of the depot had partially been depleted in the defence of Deir ez-Zor, it was still massively overstocked with arms and ammunition.
The fact that the contents of the weapons depot were left wholely intact both prior to and after the takeover (contents which could either have been destroyed beforehand or with artillery and airstrikes afterwards) indicates that the Syrian Arab Army is still incapable of dealing with such situations. The 2K12 surface-to-air missile systems captured were said to have been destroyed by the Russian Air Force after their capture. These systems were slowly abandoned over the past few years, with only the associated SURN 1S19 radar remaining operational. Bringing these systems back to operational condition would have been nigh impossible, not in the least because the missiles were in even worse shape than the launchers. Not targeting millions of small arms rounds and a hundred ATGMs and instead striking inoperable 2K12 SAMs remains a curious decision to say the least.
The captured ammunition, quickly taken away by trucks, will likely be distributed between the various fronts the Islamic State is fighting at. A part might also be held back for the upcoming battle for Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State. While one would expect trucks loaded with ammunition have no chance of driving through half of Syria towards their designation, such transports can still freely drive to any Islamic State held territory, as witnessed by the presence of a 2S1 Gvozdika in Deir ez-Zor that was originally captured at Shaer back in 2014. This self-propelled howitzer passed through four governorates before arriving in Deir ez-Zor unharmed by Coalition airstrikes back in early to mid-2015.
The 2K12 surface-to-air missile battery, supposedly bombed by the Russian Air Force after having been captured. The capture of this battery marks the second 2K12 site to have fallen in the hands of the Islamic State.
One of the BMP-1s sports Kontakt-1 explosive reactive armour (ERA) alongside its turret in a bid to enhance the poor armour of the vehicle. It is expected that vehicles such as the BRDM-2, BTR-152 and the two BREM-2s will be used as VBIEDs, the Islamic State having no use for them in their originally intended role.
Article written in collaboration with MENA_Conflict from Type 63: A collection of Musings on Middle East Conflict.
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