Monday 28 September 2015

Syrian Special Forces spotted with British Accuracy International AWM sniper rifles

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

With Russian military support to the Syrian government having been brought to an entirely new level in the past month and international media focussed on the influx of aircraft and armoured vehicles to Syria, little has yet been uncovered about the extent of new small arms deliveries to the regime. However, the Russian Vesti state-owned news channel aired footage of Syrian soldiers equipped with British-made Accuracy International Arctic Warfare Magnum (AWM) sniper rifles on the 27th of September, revealing a wider procurement policy than previously thought.

The Vesti reporter follows special forces elements as they launch their offensive into rebel-held parts of Harasta, a suburb of Damascus which has been the scene of heavy fighting since Jaish al-Islam launched its own offensive here in early September. The footage shows several tanks and armoured fighting vehicles firing at suspected rebel positions in conjunction with special forces sporting a variety of new weaponry and gear.

The specific rifle seen in the video sports a pistol-grip skin which was launched by Accuracy International in 2012, further emphasising the fact that the introduction of this type is indeed a recent development. Chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum, the AWM bolt-action sniper rifle was designed in 1996 and has since entered use with a range of countries including Russia and the United States. A testament to the weapon's capabilities, it was used by a British sniper team in Afghanistan in 2009 to set the current record for longest confirmed sniper kill on two Taliban fighters, at a distance of 2475 metres. The new pistol-grip skin mounted on the example found in Syria aims to incorporate the ergonomics of the newer AX series sniper rifles by trading the Chassis System stock for a more conventional pistol grip, losing weight in the process. The weapon's effective range is somewhat diminished by the suppressor seen attached to the muzzle brake in the video, but in the sniper-heavy environment of the Syrian battlefield it will surely help its operator remain undetected for much longer.

Other parts of the video show the usage of PKP 'Pecheneg' light machine guns by special forces members. At least one-hundred PKPs were believed to have been delivered to Syria back in 2013 for use by these special forces, but the 'Pecheneg' has been largely successful in avoiding public appearance, only being sighted in one instance before the airing of the new footage.

It appears that the regime's recent acquisitions were not limited to small arms however. Much of the individual gear of the soldiers appears to have been sourced from no other country than the U.S., and the American Under Armour sports clothing and accessories company in particular. While the choice for U.S. gear might seem awkward at first, plenty of U.S. and other Western-made firearms and gear still enter Syria on a daily basis, much of it through the black market in Lebanon. These Western firearms are mostly acquired by Alawites in the Coastal region, which have been preparing to defend themselves against any possible rebel incursion for years.

With small arms now flowing towards Syria from all corners of the world, it has become one of the most diverse battlefields in recent history, blending modern Russian-made shotguns and LMGs with British sniper rifles to American assault rifles and World War 2 era antiques. Given access to so many different types of weaponry, it is unlikely any party in the conflict will soon be running out of ways to combat its adversaries.