Do-it-yourself weaponry: How Syrian rebels wage war
Issued on: Modified:
The vast majority of the Syrian rebels’ weapons come from the regular army’s stocks. The rebels use everything they can get their hands on — ranging from ammunition and weapons to vehicles — and modify the equipment to fit their needs.
A 7.62 mm FAL rifle, jerry-rigged into a remote-controlled long-range sniper rifle.
The vast majority of the Syrian rebels’ weapons come from the regular army’s stocks. The rebels use everything they can get their hands on — ranging from ammunition and weapons to vehicles — and modify the equipment to fit their needs. An activist who lives in the Al-Khalidiya neighbourhood in Homs, which has been under siege by president Bashar al-Assad’s forces for the last several months, explains how they do it.
Syrian rebels have been fighting for more than two years against one of the region’s best-equipped and trained armies. Arming the rebels is at the centre of all discussions between the Syrian opposition and its international allies. The rebels are currently getting funding from Gulf states and local sponsors that allows them to buy weapons on the black market, but the majority of their equipment is captured from the Syrian Army during combat.
Portability is key
A 120-mm heavy mortar from the Soviet Union, atop a 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser. Aleppo, Al Zahra neighbourhood, May 5, 2013. In this case, the rebels crafted the mortar rounds themselves. This method of equipping vehicles facilitates the rebels’ rapid deployment and retreat.
A Grad rocket-launch system. Hama Rif, May 1, 2013. Grad rockets are typically sent using multiple BM21, 122mm rocket launchers with 40 tubes. In this video, rebels are using only one launching tube. Hezbollah and Hamas have also used this technique, both to improve mobility and to improve their range.
Grad multiple rocket launchers using 14 locally-made tubes.
A tractor-towed anti-aircraft gun
A Soviet-made 57 mm anti-aircraft gun pulled by a tractor. In this video, rebels are using the anti-aircraft gun in a ground fight against combatants loyal to Al-Assad’s regime. Qusayr, Homs region, May 2, 2013.
A “remote-controlled rifle” created by an engineer rebel
A 7.62 mm FAL rifle, jerry-rigged into a long-range sniper rifle that can be remote-controlled. A young engineer-turned-rebel optimised his rifle by adding on a viewfinder connected to a webcam. Kouiress, March 27, 2013.
Locally-made remote-controlled anti-aircraft gun affixed to a 4x4. Deir-Ezzor, August 10, 2012.
Rocket launcher and locally-made rockets mounted on a 4x4 Land Rover. Kurdish Jabal, April 18, 2013.
“We go searching for unexploded bombs to extract their powder”
Abou Suleiman is an activist from the Al-Khalidiya neighbourhood in Homs. His neighbourhood has been under siege from the Syrian army for the last several months.
Since the beginning of the armed conflict, we’ve done what we could with whatever means we’ve had available. We use the regime’s weapons against its own troops. Each time we are bombed by planes releasing cluster bombs [aerial bombs that can explode before hitting their target and that release smaller bombs], we wait for the blasts to stop and then go searching for unexploded bombs to extract their powder. Then we use this powder to build explosives as well as cartridges, shells, rockets, etc.
A good chunk of our weapons come from the Syrian army. At first, we bought lots of weapons and ammunition from officers who were looking to make some money. But this ended up being very costly, and some tried to sabotage us by selling cartridges that exploded in our guns, or by selling us anti-tank rockets that didn’t work!
“Many students and engineers are fighting with the rebels and help us with their scientific knowledge”
Many students and engineers are currently fighting with the rebels and help us with their scientific knowledge, for example with regards to ballistics. They use tools like Google Earth to accurately target specific areas.
With help from these engineers as well as trained blacksmiths, we manage to build our own rockets, mortars, and ammunition. This is not just in Homs; rebels in several other Syrian cities are doing the same.
The north has the most experienced combatants, because they are the ones who first started repurposing recovered weapons. Now, men from all over the country go to the northern region of Idlib or even to Turkey to learn from them. In Turkey, we also buy important components such as casings and primer caps for different calibre cartridges.
Our financial constraints force us to jump on every opportunity. When our fighters attack armoured personnel carriers, we try to save everything we can. We often recover the cannon, the machine gun, and ammunition. If the turret is still in good shape, we also take it to attach it to a truck or a 4x4, because it gives our sniper additional protection.
Turret from a BMP1 personnel carrier with a 73-mm smooth-bored cannon and a Soviet-made 7.62-mm PKT machine gun affixed to a truck. Deir-Ezzor, November 6, 2012. The cannon can store 40 mortars. The BMP1 personnel carriers are not well armoured and so are easy to disable and dismantle.
In Homs, we have even managed to build a remote-controlled machine gun. We had recovered the gun from a T72 tank and then set it up on wheels so we could guide it remotely. Five people worked on this project; they used an old bicycle and a small electric motor to get the mechanism to work. As for the camera, it’s simply a webcam. In fact, we use webcams along all the dividing lines to watch over the streets and buildings.
These techniques remain rudimentary and don’t always work. Even if the Syrian rebels have won some battles, the firepower of the regular Syrian army remains far superior.
Remote-controlled 7.62-mm PKT machine gun belonging to the jihadist group Forsan al-Sunna.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Wassim Nasr (@SimNasr).