Last month groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) continued using US-made TOW missiles as the main weapon against battle tanks and armored vehicles of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in the Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus, in northern Lattakia and in the northern Aleppo countryside. At least 12 TOW missiles were used against the SAA. Faylaq al-Rahman (has close ties with Al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham) and the First Coastal Division were main groups that used the TOW missiles.
The appearance of TOW ATGM missiles in Eastern Ghouta according to some observers. The region is completely besieged by the SAA, but it appears that militants had found a way to smuggle the missiles the region.
According to local sources TOW missiles reached Eastern Ghouta at least three months ago. The Syrian Intelligence intercepted several shipments at the beginning of 2017, but some missiles found their way into Eastern Ghouta and appeared in the hands of Faylaq al-Rahman. For the first time, the missiles were reportedly used in the battle of Qaboun, but there was no real evidence to confirm that back then.
The first documented use of a TOW missile in Eastern Ghouta was on June 30, 2017 when the fighters of Faylaq al-Rahman damaged an armored bulldozer (with Shafrah Armor) of the Syrian Republican Guard in the area of Ayn Tarma.
On July 2, 2017, Faylaq al-Rahman use the missile against a T-72M1 tank of the Syrian Republican Guard in Ayn Tarma, causing great damage to the tank and injuring the crew. However, the SAA managed to pull out the tank.
On July 3, 2017, Faylaq al-Rahman fighters tried to target a BMP-2 vehicle of the Syrian Republican Guard in Ayn Tarma. However, the vehicle moved back and the missile hit the ground. This may show that Faylaq al-Rahman members lack the needed experience in the field of using TOW missiles.
On July 8, 2017, Faylaq al-Rahman fighters targeted a T-72 tank of the Syrian Republican Guard in Ayn Tarma. The crew were injured and the tank was also badly damaged as a result of the attack . However, the SAA managed to pull out the tank.
On July 10, 2017, Faylaq al-Rahman fighters targeted a gathering of Syrian soldiers in Ayn Tarma. The missile hit the berm. However, the attack wounded a number of Syrian soldiers. It’s worth to mention that HEAT warhead does not cause any real damage when used to target infantry because it’s designed to penetrate armor.
On July 11, 2017, Faylaq al-Rahman claimed that its fighters targeted a SAA T-90 tank in Ayn Tarma with a TOW missile. However, the video showed that the tank was a T-72AV belonging to the Syrian Republican Guard. Furthermore, the missile did not hit the tank but rather the berm in front of it.
On 13-7-2017, Faylaq al-Rahman fighters destroyed a SAA 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer in Ayn Tarma with a TOW missile that was fired from a very close distance.
On July 17, 2017, Faylaq al-Rahman fighters targeted a T-72M1 tank of the Syrian Republican Guard in Ayn Tarma. The tank was not severely damaged, but the driver was badly injured and the tank continued its advance until it fell into a river. The SAA managed to pull out the tank later.
On July 20, 2017, Faylaq al-Rahman claimed that its fighters destroyed a SAA 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer in Ayn Tarma, but the video showed what appeared to be the 2S3 Akatsiya self-propelled howitzer. Moreover, the missile hit the dirt berm instead of the Akatsiya.
Faylaq al-Rahman may have not announced many other TOW missile strikes against the SAA in Ayn Tarma and Jobar. Faylaq al-Rahman fighters have showed their lack of experience in using the weapon and proved that it’s difficult to use this type of ATGM in the Urban warfare. Experts believe that other parties in Eastern Ghouta, including Jaysh al-Islam, have also received TOW missiles.
The First Coast Division, one of the CIA-backed FSA groups, started using US-made TOW missiles to attack the SAA in the northern Latakia countryside on the same day as the US administration announced the suspension of the CIA program to arm and train the FSA on July 19, 2017. Members of the First Coast Division launched a TOW missile against a SAA D30 artillery gun in the Al-Turkoman mountain, but the missile did not hit the D30 directly.
On July 21, 2017, fighters of the First Coast Division targeted a SAA truck in the village of Sher and successfully hit it.
On July 29, 2017, the First Coast Division destroyed SAA fortifications in the Al-Turkoman mountain with a TOW missile.
The US-backed 23rd Division used a TOW missile against a 14.5mm gun of the SAA at the Ritan front in the northern Aleppo countryside on July 29, 2017.
The use of TOW missiles by the FSA in the ceasefire zones was restarted after the US administration announced the suspension of the CIA program in Syria on July 19, 2017. This shows that the CIA either has no real control over the groups it supported in Syria, or that the CIA is not able to withdraw any weapons that had been provided to these groups after the program was stopped. As a result the majority of these weapons may end up in the hands of extremist groups such as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) or ISIS.