As East Ghouta fell, stacks of weapons were taken from retreating Jaysh Al-Islam militants
As the last bastion in Eastern Ghouta fell in April 2018, Jaysh Al-Islam militants agreed to leave their stronghold in Duma (Douma) for Jarablus in northern Syria. According to the agreement with the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, around 1000 Jaysh al-Islam militants were provided with a safe passage to northern Syria. The agreement required militants to turn in most of their equipment, ammunition and heavy weaponry, leaving militants to retreat only with personal automatic rifles. On April 21, the first images of retreat appeared on social media, presenting the weapons that were left behind. @DFRLab analyzed these videos and observed the variety of weaponry that Jaysh Al-Islam used.
Video footage published online by social media activists show a number of tanks and vehicles, ammunition, along with light and heavy weapons. This materiel was formerly captured by rebel fighters and are now under the Syrian Army control in the wake of the wide-scale military operation on Eastern Ghouta. Most of the video footage and photos that appeared on social media a few days ago seemed to have been taken at two different locations. @DFRLab analyzed the footage and found out that these locations are most likely East Qalamoun, next to Jabal Batra and Jabal al-Afai, and premises of Al Dumayr airport.
One of the likely locations captured in the videos were the premises of Al Dumayr Military Airport. No more than a kilometer north of the airport we noticed a military compound, which closely resembled to location in the imagery. A structure with a red roof visible behind two posing soldiers served as the main landmark in geolocating this location.
A variety of photos and videos were available from this location, allowing to see a better picture of the weaponry used by Jaysh Al-Islam.
A number of American-made BGM-71 (TOW) anti-tank guided weapons (ATGWs) stuck out in the pictures. In 2015, Saudi Arabia confirmed the delivery of 500 TOW anti-tank missiles to the Free Syrian Army. Despite their age, these anti-tank weapons were successfully used in the conflict, even against well-armored T-90 tanks. At least four tripods were seen, with a few missiles next to them, stored in boxes for transportation.
A large amount of TOW missiles was claimed to have been found hidden in the caves, somewhere in the East Qalamoun. Due to lack of geolocation data, this location was not confirmed.
Next to the TOW missile boxes, a few Chinese made HJ-8E anti-tank guided weapons (ATGWs) were recorded. The close up in the video helped to read the markings on the missile and confirm it to be HJ-8E. These missiles were observed in use by the rebels as early as 2013, are thought to have originated in Sudan.
A large number of tanks were also visible in the video. The recorded tank arsenal appeared to be dominated by T-55 tanks, but a few T-72s were also observed.
Vast amounts of light weapons, a variety of mortars and stacks of ammunition were recorded on the premises of the base and in the nearby caves.
A variety of weapons and vehicles had the Jaysh Al-Islam logo painted on them. This finding confirmed the claims that these weapons were seized from Jaysh Al-Islam militia.
Jabal Batra and Jabal al-Afai
The other video that circulated the social media presented a large parking lot full of military vehicles, including tanks, in a rural and mountainous location.
#Pt. Since outbreak of war, Regime never (re)captured so many (working) armours from Rebels. Video shows Jaish Islam's tank arsenal seized in E.#Qalamoun (Jebal Batra & Afai). Most of them seized from 559th Armored Battalion in March 2014. https://t.co/D07Pcks6Yn pic.twitter.com/PEtc0gRpxH
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) April 21, 2018
The post claimed the location was near the Jabal Batra and Jabal al-Afai mountain chains. Just five kilometers west from the Jabal al-Afai mountain chain a military base was located, which was marked as Army Storage Base 555 on Wikimapia.
Due to the limited amount of geolocation data in the video, we couldn’t cannot fully confirm the location. Nonetheless, the terrain visible in the video seemed to coincide with satellite imagery and bore a similarity to the Jabal al-Afai mountain range.
At least 20 armored vehicles, predominantly tanks, were recorded in this video. As the video footage quality was poor, not all the vehicles could be identified, nonetheless the majority of tanks appeared to be T-55s together with a couple of T-72s.
Here are the above mentioned locations presented on an interactive map:
Jaysh Al-Islam suffered a great defeat in losing their Duma stronghold and a significant weapons arsenal. The video footage gave a brief glimpse into the variety of weapons used by the rebels. Part of the arsenal was acquired early in the conflict by raiding it from the Assad regime troops, other equipment was given by supporting countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or Turkey. These recently surfaced videos and photos showed the staggering amounts of weapons available to the rebels fighting against Assad and speak to the intensity of the conflict for themselves.
@DFRLab will continue to monitor unfolding events in the Syria conflict.
Lukas Andriukaitis is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).
Follow along for more in-depth analysis from our #DigitalSherlocks.