ISIS and the MiGs

Syrian gun #1

Last week we reported on the latest (at that time) ISIS propaganda video, which as usual featured gruesome footage of horrific violence, including mass executions, corpses with horrible wounds, beheaded bodies, and all the other sacerdotal niceties that we have come to expect from the Islamic State.

Vlad captured a copy of the video before YouTube took it down, so I was able to watch the whole thing — although I admit I had to avert my gaze from parts of it. There’s only so much of that stuff I can take.

The video chronicled a military operation in which ISIS overran a Syrian air base. The most significant portion of the footage showed the weaponry they captured at the base, including fighter jets, tanks, missiles, artillery, and stored munitions.

Thinking that YouTube would allow non-violent portions of the ISIS video to be uploaded, I asked Vlad to excerpt footage of the captured weapons. But I was mistaken — even though there was no shooting, no beheading, no dead bodies, and no violence of any sort, YouTube said the excerpts violated their “Community Guidelines” on violence, and then turned down an appeal. Mind you, the shorter video was no more violent than a Soviet May Day parade in Red Square — just a display of weapons — yet YouTube would not allow it.

I’ll speculate more on the reasons for their actions later on in this post. But first I’d like to recap what was in the video they deleted.

Fortunately, I still have a copy of the footage that Vlad excerpted. It’s a little over a minute long. I made fifteen screen caps from it, and they are displayed below (with one image at the top of this post). As we reported last time, the hardware seems to be Russian (which is what you would expect in Syria). The planes have been identified as MiG-21s and one of the tanks as a T-72. I don’t have any information about the rest — readers may leave their observations in the comments. I’m particularly interested in the missiles and the other ordnance.

Syrian plane #1

Syrian plane #2

Syrian plane #3

Syrian plane #4

Syrian plane #5

Syrian plane #6

Syrian plane #7

Syrian plane #8

Syrian missiles #1

Syrian tank #1

Syrian tank #2

Syrian munitions #1

Syrian munitions #2

Syrian gun #2

Vlad and I discussed the video with a contact who has some expertise on weaponry, especially planes and tanks. For those who missed it in the earlier post, here are excerpts from our three-way conversation:

Expert:   The plane is a MiG-21:

Syrian Civil War

Starting in July 2012, after more than a year of Civil War with no aerial action, the Syrian Air Force started operations against Syrian insurgents. MiG-21’s were among the first combat ready aircraft to be employed in bombings, rocket attacks and strafing runs with many videos recorded from the ground showing the jets in combat.

The rebels had access to heavy machine guns, different antiaircraft guns and Russian and Chinese MANPADS up to modern designs such as the Russian 9K38 Igla. The first loss of a MiG-21 was recorded on 30 August 2012. Its registration was 2271. It was likely downed on take off or landing at Abu Dhuhur air base, under siege by rebels, by heavy machine gun fire. A few days later a second MiG-21, registered 2280, was shot down and recorded on video on 4 September 2012. It was likely downed on take off or landing at Abu Dhuhur air base, under siege by rebels, by KPV 14.5 mm machine gun fire.

Baron:   Now ISIS has them. I wonder if they can fly them.
Vlad:   I’m sure they have some of the same pilots that flew them before. Whose idea was it, after all, to get the air base? Why did they want to go after such a fortified target? Why couldn’t they defend the base? I don’t understand why the Syrians didn’t blow up stuff like ordinance and so on.
Baron:   Their soldiers were there in force, and they lost. They probably underestimated their enemy.

They must have guys that can fly those. There have been defectors. Remember that guy at the oil refinery who welcomed them?

Expert:   I can’t tell what the first tank is. The second tank is a T-72. (Photo)

The nice thing about the MiG-21 is that it’s been around forever, so there are probably tons of pilots who are familiar with it, especially in that area where there are tons of Soviet-era planes. Tanks, probably the same deal. ISIS seems pretty proficient militarily. I would assume they have people who are comfortable with Soviet-era tanks.

I would wager some of the US tanks they might be oddly less comfortable with, because those are more modern and less prolific in the Middle East.

Vlad:   I mean, where are these ISIS guys coming from? Are they former military?
Baron:   Some of them, yes. They get defectors from Iraq and Syria. Sunnis. And some Turks and Lebanese and lots of “Europeans”.
Expert:   Well, that would explain it, as far as the planes go. If these guys have any familiarity with civilian aircraft, I assume they could figure out a jet. I imagine there have been some accidents, probably some fatalities, but it would be doable. Tanks would be even easier, and artillery pieces easier yet.

I would say planes present the most problems for them, but even so I think they’ll probably do a better job than we expect. And I would say that with planes, they will probably have a very easy time figuring out air-to-ground missiles.

I think ISIS’s first air to ground attack will take place much sooner than anyone expects, and I predict they will get very devastating, very fast.

Vlad:   Military jets require specialized training to the extent that they reject commercial ATR level pilots.
Expert:   I predict they will be more devastating than even pessimists like you and me are predicting. My guess is they will try to choose targets that maximize suffering. Power plants. Dams. Places where they can take out the grid, and cause a lot of human death and grief. ISIS is determined.

Just because their pilots suck doesn’t mean they’ll die or crash. It just means that their jets will break down faster, and, yeah, there will be some crashes.

Right now, though, ISIS has a lot of reasons to try to find decent pilots.

Baron:   They have exceeded all expectations so far, so I am not predicting.
Vlad:   They didn’t take out the Mosul Dam, which I thought was interesting.
Baron:   I think they need it for their own purposes.
Expert:   My understanding is that most Middle Eastern air forces are kind of a joke, anyway, and they’ve been operating for 30-40 years without major issues. I don’t think ISIS will have a problem finding decent (for Muslims, anyway) pilots.

I noticed they seem to have actual Asiatics among them, so their collective IQ might go up.

Baron:   Vlad, the world hasn’t seen anything like this since 1945, not that I’ve heard of.
Vlad:   In 1945 the Nazis at least tried to hide it. It was the allies that exposed the horror. The fact that ISIS is bragging about this stuff, it shows a level of depravity I can only call biblical.
Baron:   And the thing is, it does sell. It brings recruits swarming in, people who want to do neat stuff like this.
Expert:   I shouldn’t laugh, but the idea that they’re censoring male chests, while showing a video of mass murder. It’s just… it’s terrifyingly ludicrous.
Baron:   Yes, it is. Grotesquely, hideously ludicrous.

A brief synopsis of the ISIS propaganda video that was taken down by YouTube:

After an intro featuring what seemed to be loving care provided to wounded children, the video showed aerial footage taken using a GoPro camera on a drone at relatively high altitude. The camera panned over the area around the military base, highlighting targets.

The next section showed the ground operation. There was a lot of ghastly footage of Syrian soldiers being shot, with loving close-ups of corpses with gory wounds. You could see the ISIS mujahideen taking their victims’ weapons and going through their pockets. Sometimes they held up a soldier’s military ID card for the camera. Then they went around putting an extra head shot into each of the bodies, just to make sure.

Eventually they overran the base itself, and triumphantly claimed the military equipment you saw in the excerpts.

The last portion of the video was the most horrific. In it you see captured Syrian soldiers being rounded up. They are forced to strip to their underwear, then slapped and pushed around as they are marched in columns across the desert. The final scenes show them being compelled to lie down in shallow pits, where the mujahideen methodically dispatch them with automatic weapons.

A peculiar aspect of those final scenes: even while the prisoners were being machine-gunned in their piles, the video editors were careful to blur out their chests, midsections, and legs. This is because they had been stripped to their underwear, and the Koran instructs Muslims to make sure the bodies of both men and women are always modestly covered from neck to ankle.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

So why did YouTube take down a one-minute video of the ISIS weaponry shown above in those screen caps?

I can provide no definitive answer, since YouTube, like all subsidiaries of Google, does not deign to communicate with mere mortals. However, based on my discussions with Vlad, I can offer some informed speculation.

ISIS, like other terror groups, needs to propagates material on YouTube that they know will quickly be banned. So they release it on multiple channels simultaneously, knowing that a number of their sympathizers will immediately download copies of the video and upload it to their own channels, or onto other sites.

When YouTube discovers the video, it registers some sort of signature for the footage, so that additional copies may be easily detected and removed by robots. That’s probably what got the one-minute video of excerpts removed: the footage contained enough of the original video to trigger the signature-monitors and cause automatic removal.

However, the appeal process involves review by a human being. This is how we know that something hinky is going on, because the footage we uploaded was most assuredly not in violation of YouTube’s Community Guidelines on violence. Read their text; you’ll see what I mean.

I’m forced to conclude that YouTube simply doesn’t want that footage to be available. Maybe the government asked them to suppress anything that shows the weaponry now in the possession of the Islamic State. Or maybe YouTube is determined not to propagate any ISIS material.

Or maybe there’s another reason I haven’t thought of. Take a look at the screen caps and see if you can figure it out.

16 thoughts on “ISIS and the MiGs

  1. Syrian tank #1 looks like a BMP-1 to me, meaning it’s an Infantry Fighting Vehicle, not a tank. Syrian tank #2 looks like a T-62. Missiles look like Soviet air-to-air ordnance, most likely AA-2 Atoll (NATO designation). Syrian gun #2 looks like ZU-23 anti-aircraft twin cannon. MiGs look pretty decrepit and most likely unflyable.

    • I concur with the identifications of ground equipment, 95% sure. Those AFV seem to have no post-production upgrades which would make them of dubious value in a modern conflict, the designs being roughly half a century old.

      • I think that cannon looks too beefy to be only 30mm. More likely it’s a 73mm weapon, which makes it a BMP-1.

  2. Have you tried They host the videos that YouTube wouldn’t allow. I’ve been stopping by there for years. Regarding this kind of violent/graphic video footage; the Islamic crazies have been posting this stuff, out of Syria, for at least the last couple of years. There are no excuses for anyone, especially in our government and intelligence agencies, not to have seen this coming.

  3. The first tank is a Russian PT-76. It is really a tracked infantry assault vehicle, amphibious, air mobile, with a turrented 76 mm gun, from the 1970s. All the pictured equipment is old Soviet era armaments. Still impressive no doubt to basically light infantry terrorists.

  4. Sorry, but ISIL thinking they are ready for conventional war at this stage is exactly what will get them wiped out in Corps and Army strength right quickly. How long would 1970’s vintage MiG 21c’s, with 1970’s badly-maintained avionics last against a couple of Egyptian F-16s? About 45 seconds.

    As for their “tanks”, these are cheap cannon-fodder for drone-based Mavericks and Hellfires, and would do nothing except score massive propaganda points for Obama’s “Coalition of the Shilling” by providing a cheap and spectacular fireworks display replete with nice images of charred, mangled bodies for Al Jazeera to show worldwide in real time.

    No, ISIS going full conventional is a NATO [fervent wish]. Far likelier is that they do what they’ve always done: disperse behind their human shields in the cities they control, and go the full Hamas. Wait for Obama to start dropping bombs that kill women and children, and just let the Western media do what they’ve always been trained to do: ensure that the bad guys always get away with it.

    Hey it’s the reason I enjoy learning that [redacted]!

  5. Thank you all for filling in some of the blanks. Does anyone know what those big cylinders are (munitions #2)?

    • Those are Soviet shoulder-fired rocket launchers of some kind. Most likely RPO Shmel or Rys because the actual rockets are quite bulky and look like anti-infantry weapons, with fuel-air explosive warheads (FAE).

    • #2 appears to be a shipping container for small missiles, or perhaps the Soviet equivalent of the American Light Anti Armor Weapons System, basically a one shot anti-tank rocket with a disposable container/launcher. LAAWS type weapons are nothing new, basically a Vietnam war era version of the WWII “Bazooka”, Panzerfaust or PIAT.

  6. There won’t be any air sorties by isil. To paraphrase something I read – jet fighters are maintenance intensive and Russian technicians don’t travel to Damascus any more.

  7. Anyone who hasn’t checked out Babs’ link on why Arabs lose wars, in her second reply to the News Feed of the 14th, really should. The article is by someone who should know, and still relevant after fifteen years.

    I’ve enjoyed all the suggestions from the tank buffs; I reckon “Tank No 1” is a Soviet BMP tracked armoured personnel carrier, not sure which version; they’ve been in service since 1967, and are amphibious- very handy in the desert!

  8. Syrian Gun No. 1 S-60 57mm AA gun
    Syrian missiles: AA-2 Atoll IR AAM
    Syrian tank No. 1 BMP-1 IFV
    Syrian tank No. 2 T-62 MBT
    Syrian gun No. 2 ZU-23-2 twin 23mm AA cannon

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