ISIS Is Being Armed By Who?

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This past January, the U.S. Central Command said that U.S. and coalition airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria destroyed some 184 Humvees, 58 tanks and nearly 700 other vehicles.

With reports that intelligence agencies are altering damage estimates to turn dim news into “happy talk” for President Obama’s consumption, the truth of these claims is in dispute.

What is not in dispute is the modern military arsenal ISIS gathered up when Iraqi soldiers dropped their weapons, stripped out of their uniforms and ran for the hills when it looked like fighting ISIS would fail.

So while the number of ISIS military vehicles reportedly destroyed seems significant, it is just a drop in the bucket compared to firepower the Islamic State has at its disposal.

Reports suggest that ISIS has amassed a huge fleet of trucks, armored personnel carriers and even top of the line U.S. main battle tanks – ammunition included. Last year, when ISIS captured the city of Mosul, the Iraqi army scattered handing the jihadists 2,300 Humvees – some of which have been modified by ISIS to serve as armored vehicles.

Left to its own devices, ISIS would be unable to produce tanks or weapons in factories, and unlike past Islamic rebels, ISIS isn’t being armed or equipped by a major power either – if you don’t count US equipment that enemy forces have captured without firing a shot.

That’s not all.

Peter Suciu, reporting for, said ISIS – aside from being well armed with modern equipment – is also capturing Cold War-era weapons from the Syrian army. All sides in the Syrian Civil War are using these weapons, including AK-47 assault rifles and T-72 main battle tanks.

“Syrian rebel groups probably make the most extensive use of heavy equipment at the moment, thanks largely to battlefield successes,” Jeremy Binnie, Middle East/Africa Editor for IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, told

“But that is also a product of the Syrian military’s vast inventory of Soviet-era weapons and equipment, (as well as) its inability to destroy this materiel after it has been captured.”

While training on US military equipment may be sparse, Syrian rebels who served in the Syrian military may be able to teach ISIS the skills and knowledge needed to operate and maintain the equipment.

ISIS captured weapons are already having an impact on the battlefield.

Captured weapons have allowed ISIS to operate like an actual army, not a loose knit insurgent guerrilla movement, and not only take but hold territory. In addition to tanks, ISIS has the ability to tow field guns and artillery pieces – a repositioning tactic that allows ISIS to shell Iraqi military targets from a great distance, as well as fixed anti-aircraft guns and even shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons.

These shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft weapons could serve a dual purpose – shoot down enemy aircraft in a military engagement or take down a commercial airliner in a terrorist attack.

“Rocket-fired grenades and shoulder-launched missiles have long been available in black markets in the Middle East and Africa, but this higher-end stuff is coming from other sources,” Seth Jones, director of international security and defense policy center at the RAND Corp. told”

“This really shows that conventional weapons are a reason for concern. In many ways, we’re largely past the stage of nuclear proliferation unless it was provided by a state, and that isn’t likely to happen. However, these anti-aircraft weapon systems of all sizes are still a reason for concern.”

It boils down to this grim truth.

The lethal hardware in ISIS hands – weapons that could be used to overwhelm adversaries and unarmed civilians on the battlefield – was made possible by a dithering American president and Iraqi allies who weren’t worth arming and training in the first place.

Morgan Mayhew
Morgan is a freelance writer for a variety of publications covering popular culture, societal behavior and the political influences of each.