Over the weekend, a militant offensive by ISIS was able to let the terrorist group regain control of the historic city of Palmyra after it had been retaken by Syrian forces back in March. In the process, the stockpile of weapons brought in by the government and Russian forces was seized as ISIS forced the troops quickly out of the area. By Sunday, Palmyra was entirely in ISIS’ control, leaving officials to believe they could now have their hands on not only armor and amunition, but a surface-to-air missile system belonging to the Syrian government.
The Islamic State-linked news agency, Amaq, posted a video on Tuesday showing the stockpiles of weapons and equipment left behind by the Russian and Syrian forces.
While it is not clear how long the base was abandoned before ISIS’ arrival, the footage in the video shows heavy machine and damaged antiaircraft guns. A news clip from May shows the base with a truck-mounted surface-to-air missile known as the Pantsir S-1, though it has not been confirmed that the truck was still on site as of last weekend. While some of the claims on the Amaq video may be manufactured to show a more embellished view of what was left behind, it is likely that ISIS did gain some equipment.
Amaq also posted images on Tuesday that show Jihadi fighters capturing a Syrian fire base West of Palmyra. The images show an S-125 surface-to-air missile system, complete with the associated targeting and tracking radar, in the distance.
The S-125 is a soviet era weapon that can strike targets as far as 17 miles away. A U.S. defense official recently told reporters that they are tracking the capture of “significant equipment” around Palmyra. It is believed that the S-125 is the equipment they are tracking. The S-125 can strike aircraft at an altitude as high as 60,000 feet. Despite the S-125 being easily seen and targeted from the air it still poses a legitimate threat to U.S. coalition aircraft carrying out airstrikes.
On Wednesday, the top U.S. general in Iraq expressed his concerns that the Islamic State may have stolen a Syrian military surface-to-air missile system during their retaking of Palmyra.
“We believe it includes some armored vehicles and various guns and other heavy weapons, possibly some air defense equipment,” Army Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend said to Pentagon reporters, refusing to go into specifics about the “air defense equipment.”
“Anything they seized poses a threat to the coalition,” he added.
Townsend blamed Russia and Syria for taking their eye off the ball which enabled ISIS to gain control of he weapons. He added that if Russia fails to take out the weapons ISIS has seized the United States will do it, but would give Russia time to “sort that out.”
The lieutenant general also said that he agreed with Brett McGurk’s estimation that 12,000-15,000 ISIS fighters remain in the region, saying it’s “ballpark close enough.”