Islamic State militants stormed a Syrian airbase over the weekend, routing the remaining elements of the country’s army from northern Raqqah province and reportedly seizing a cache of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.You don't say.
The seizure of Tabqa air base, while not the first installation of its type to fall to militants, highlights the Islamic State’s gains in the region and the group’s continued pilfering of advanced military equipment, particularly the surface-to-air missile systems known as MANPADS, short for Man Portable Air Defense Systems.
Matt Schroeder, a senior researcher at the Switzerland-based research group Small Arms Survey and author of a recent report on MANPADS in Syria, believes that the takeover of Tabqa airbase could mark a “significant proliferation” of the weapons across the region.
“What we do know from previous airfield seizures is that these places are a source of MANPADS and similar weapons,” Schroeder said.
It is difficult to independently confirm that Islamic State seized MANPADS from Tabqa. Charles Lister, an analyst at Brookings Doha Center who has tracked the flow of weapons in the region, tweeted a photo that purportedly showed an Islamic State fighter wielding what appeared to be MANPADS.
Schroeder did not know the model of the system but noted it has the characteristics of an SA-18 and other Soviet MANPADS.
“This is not a system we see often,” Schroeder said. “We know very little about it.”
The SA-18 is one of eight MANPADS variants in militant hands that have been documented by Small Arms Survey. While most are Soviet-era models, the Russian Federation SA-24 and Chinese FN-6 have been sighted in the almost four-year-old conflict.
For Damien Spleeters, an investigator for Conflict Armament Research who just 10 days ago was documenting the weapons of the Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria, the takeover of Tabqa airbase is just another example of the Islamic State expanding its arsenal of advanced weaponry.
“Usually when you take an airbase you don’t just find one or two systems,” Spleeters said. “You find a lot more than that because airbases are meant to store those types of weapons.”
Spleeters added that the prevalence of advanced systems like the SA-24, which can hit aircraft flying at up to 20,000 feet, is “very worrying.”
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
ISIS may now have shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles: