Lebanese Army Finds ISIS Anti-Aircraft Missile Cache: Airliners can be easily downed
Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Does ISIS have the capability of taking out a civilian passenger jet? According to an alarming new report by Reuters the answer appears to be yes.

The Islamic State has long been rumored as in possession of surface-to-air missiles, and now it appears a US ally is providing ground level confirmation of what might be a worst case nightmare scenario come true. The Lebanese Army has recently been engaged in a fierce campaign to root out ISIS terrorists from the Arsal border pocket - a northeast region of Lebanon bordering Syria which has seen fighting rage since 2014. As we previously reported, the operation is receiving some level of assistance from US special forces advisers as well as coordination from Hezbollah, while at the same time the Syrian Army is attacking from the Syrian side of the border in the Qalaman mountains.

On Monday, Reuters issued the following report based on official statements of the Lebanese Army:

Lebanon's army found anti-aircraft missiles among with a cache of weapons in an area abandoned by Islamic State militants, it said on Monday.

The arms cache also included mortars, medium and heavy machine guns, assault rifles, grenades, anti-tank weapons, anti-personnel mines, improvised explosive devices and ammunition.

Not only did Lebanon's army - which is working under the advisement of the Pentagon for the operation - confirm ISIS possession of anti-aircraft missiles, but last week it reported to have uncovered a similarly stocked Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) cache as well. According to the same Reuters report:

A Hezbollah offensive last month forced militants from the Nusra Front group, formerly al Qaeda's official Syrian branch, to quit an adjacent enclave on the border for a rebel-held part of Syria.

On Friday, the Lebanese army said it had discovered surface-to-air missiles in a weapons cache left by the Nusra militants in an area captured by Hezbollah and then taken over by the army.

 

Such anti-aircraft missiles, commonly called MANPADS ("man-portable air-defense system": heat seeking shoulder fired missiles capable of hitting targets flying at anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 feet), have appeared on the Syrian battlefield in recent years in the hands armed opposition groups supported by the West and Gulf states, including various FSA and Islamist factions like Ansar al-Islam Front (operating in the south) and Ahrar al-Sham (operating in the north of Syria).

These groups have at various times filmed and demonstrated themselves to be in possession of externally supplied MANPADS, which are believed by analysts to have entered Syria in multiple waves via different routes and external sponsors, including old Soviet models shipped out of Libya, Chinese FN-6's provided by Qatar, and through NATO member Turkey's porous border with Syria. Some supplies were also likely gained through opposition takeovers of Syrian government storehouses as well as ISIS seizures of Iraqi government bases and equipment.

MANPADS are heat seeking shoulder fired missiles capable of hitting targets flying at anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 feet. Image source: Activist Post

A 2016 report from the Syrian monitoring news site South Front entitled, MANPADS: From the FSA to ISIS and Al-Qaeda, demonstrated the elaborate steps external state sponsors of the Syrian armed opposition took in concealing their role in introducing the missile systems to the conflict:

Since the reveal of Fn-6 anti-aircraft missile in the hands of the Free Syrian Army, speculations and warnings emerged on the danger of empowering non-state forces with such advanced mobile weapons.

While many saw that empowering the FSA with weapons like these is of no perilous consequences, others had ample doubts and worries.

The theory behind the proliferation of those Chinese manufactured weapons is that Qatar purchased them from the Sudan military stockpiles and transferred them with the cooperation of Turkey into Syria, and specifically into Deir Ezzor, Aleppo, Idlib, and Lattakia in addition to Homsís northern countryside and Qalamoun.

South Front further detailed instances of documented ISIS and al-Qaeda possession of the FN-6 system in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon - and concluded (like innumerable other reports) that it was only a matter of time before ISIS and other terror groups would become the main beneficiaries of the bulk of advanced missile systems which were being handed out in Syria. The New York Times as early as 2013, for example, reported Qatar's sending MANPADS into Syria and discussed the likelihood of these going straight to Al-Qaeda. The report bluntly stated, "The missiles, American officials warned, could one day be used by terrorist groups, some of them affiliated with Al Qaeda, to shoot down civilian aircraft."

Meanwhile, hawks in Congress have at various times over the course of the 6-year long war argued for openly supplying so-called "moderate" opposition factions in Syria with US made Stinger missiles. Though it's unknown for sure whether US sourced Stingers ever made it to Syria as part of the CIA's covert program, sporadic reports of Stingers in the hands of anti-Assad fighters have surfaced over the years.

 



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