WASHINGTON — According to Kurdish activists and arms researchers, Turkish versions of the U.S. M72 LAW anti-tank rocket keep popping up in ISIS stockpiles.
One such rocket was discovered and documented by Conflict Armament Research — an arms research organization dedicated to tracking weapons supplies in conflict zones through various chains of custody.
The HAR-66 — the Turkish version of the U.S. M72 — was discovered by the research group on the outskirts of Mosul in mid-March.
“Islamic State forces discarded this item during a battle against Rapid Response Division in the Al Jawsaq neighbourhood in early March 2017,” reads a report provided to Military Times.
Researchers at the arms tracking group were unable to ascertain how the anti-tank rocket ended up in ISIS custody. “I haven’t seen any in Iraqi inventories in the last three years,” said Damien Spleeters, a researcher at Conflict Armament Research.
Other HAR-66 rockets have been discovered by the People’s Protection Unit, or YPG, in Syria. Photos and videos of the captured rockets from ISIS have been documented and uploaded to the group’s official press page.
In June, the U.S. backed Kurdish militants uploaded video of a supply cache captured from ISIS during the early onset of the campaign to liberate Raqqa. That weapons cache featured expected Russian rifles and machine guns, rocket propelled grenades, but also the Turkish version of the U.S. LAW anti-tank rocket.
The rocket can be easily identified by the Turkish instructions on the rocket, and its squared firing mechanism and compact size. The rocket is sometimes misidentified because the Russians have a reversed engineered version of the M72 known as the RPG-18. However, the RPG-18 can be identified by the Cyrillic instructions on the tube of the rocket. Cyrillic is the standard alphabet for Slavic languages.
Kurdish activists have posted images to social media of the alleged captured U.S./Turkish rocket from the operation to liberate the Tabqa dam launched in March all the way back to the campaign to free the Syrian city of Manbij last summer from ISIS.
Military Times reached out to officials at Operation Inherent Resolve — the U.S. and coalition mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Officials at OIR could not provide any further information.
“We know in this particular region the conflicts that have happened over the last several years there are a lot of different types of weapons systems on the battlefield,” said Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve. “I do know there are a lot of weapon systems there left over time.”
The Syrian battlefield is awash in weapons and anti-tank rockets and has a thriving illicit arms markets. Some heavy weapons employed by ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq were captured after the terror group sacked Syrian and Iraqi army bases.
However, according to Arms researchers, Syrian and Iraqi inventories do not normally contain the HAR-66. “I do not remember having seen anything about Iraq procuring these weapons from Turkey,” said Pieter Wezeman, an arms researcher at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. However, Iraq has purchased a lot of weapons from a lot of other countries, he added.
Nevertheless, the Syrian battlefield has been flooded with weapon systems from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey, U.S., and even Chinese Hongjian-8 anti-tank guided missile systems have been documented in the war-torn country.
According to researchers at Stratfor — a think-tank that specializes in geopolitical intelligence analysis —Turkey has been supplying its Arab dominant Free Syrian Army allies in northern Syria with weapons.
“We have previously seen HAR-66 rockets in the hands of Syrian rebel forces with close ties to Turkey,” said Stratfor’s senior military analyst Omar Lamrani.
The discovery of the Turkish rockets in the ISIS arsenal is yet another obstacle for the lightly armed U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters as they slog their way through Raqqa.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.