WASHINGTON — The U.S.- backed Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, have received commercial, off-the-shelf Lenco BearCat armored vehicles as part of coalition aid, according to Col. Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve.
Footage of the vehicles being shipped on flatbed trucks barreling towards Raqqa was captured by the SMART News Agency — an Arabic language opposition media group in Syria.
Aid to the Kurdish-led fighters has been controversial. Turkey, a NATO ally, views the group as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK — a group designated as a terrorist group by both Ankara and Washington.
BearCats are popular with U.S. military law enforcement and SWAT teams.
“Lenco tactical response & rescue vehicles are in over 90 of the top 100 U.S. cities and at federal law enforcement agencies,” according to a press statement from Lenco Armored Vehicles’ official website.
The company says the vehicle is good for urban terrain and has been able to withstand explosions, including from hand grenades and improvised explosive devices. The armor is rated to handle high-powered rifles and 7.62 mm ammunition.
Coalition aid to the Kurdish fighters is metered out on an as-needed basis, according to the Pentagon.
Nevertheless, new armored vehicles have been appearing steadily in Raqqa as the campaign to liberate the de facto ISIS capital continues to progress. The SDF has now managed to push the militants out of Raqqa’s Old City, a spokesman for the group said recently.
“Our forces today seized full control of the Old City in Raqqa after clashes with [ISIS],” Talal Sello said.
But fighting has been intense as the SDF advanced toward the city center. Previously, Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for OIR, said that nearly 80 percent of attacks against the SDF were from improvised explosive devices.
As new military hardware has appeared on the streets in Raqqa, Military Times has reached out to officials in Baghdad to confirm aid being delivered to the Kurdish fighters.
Here is a rundown of vehicles Military Times has confirmed as coalition aid to the SDF:
Land Cruisers and Hiluxes
Toyota land cruisers and the Toyota Hilux are part of aid to the SDF, according to Scrocca. The trucks are sometimes modified to carry medium and heavy machine guns, commonly referred to as a “technical.”
The Guardian armored vehicle is a souped-up Ford with armor plating and a machine gun turret. Much like the BearCat, this vehicle is a commercial, off-the-shelf tactical vehicle. This vehicle has been provided to the SDF and Syrian Arab Coalition.
U.S. up-armored Humvees are also part of coalition support to the Kurdish fighters. Pictures of the vehicles engaged in combat have been floating around Raqqa and on social media.
Armored tractors and bulldozers
The coalition previously confirmed to Military Times that the SDF are receiving armored tractors and bulldozers. These vehicles have been paramount in urban battles across Syria and were used heavily by Iraqi forces in Mosul. The tractors allow fighters to clear paths, remove IEDs, and aid in the construction of makeshift defenses for fighters.
The SDF have other vehicles and do-it-yourself armored vehicles on the battlefield, including Russian T-55 and T-72 tanks and Russian BMP infantry fighting vehicles. These vehicles were captured on the battlefield from the Syrian army and eventually ended up in the hands of the SDF, they are not part of coalition aid.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.