A rebel spokesman shows off a new weapon, possibly a Croatian Rak-12UPDATES: This weapon has been spotted several times on the battlefield. Scroll to the bottom for details.
To date, most of the insurgent arsenal in Syria has been captured from the regime's army. Other arms came from Croatia, as part of an international effort to bolster the insurgency. On Friday, we saw a new weapon, shown in the video at the top of the entry.
On the surface, this resembles a Type 63 Multiple Rocket Launcher. It has 12 tubes and is towed.
The Type 63 is manufactured by many countries, including Turkey and Egypt. It has been exported widely, including to Syria.
There were problems with this theory, however. The weapon shows distinctive variations from the Type 63, notably its lack of "vent holes" on the side, which are important in letting the tubes cool. Aspects of the back end of the weapon do not match the Type 63.
Searching for variations of 12-tube or 107mm rocket launchers produced only a single, Turkish variation that did not have these holes. This, however, is not designed for mounting on a vehicle --- if this is the weapon in the Syrian video, it has been heavily customised to be towed and operated from the side.
We sent this video to many arms experts and Syria watchers. None of them could recall a weapon in the two-year conflict similar to this, let alone identify it.
Finally, a possibility arose. This may be the first appearance of a Croatian-made RH ALAN 128 mm 12-round VLR 128 M91A3 RAK 12 --- Rak-12 for short --- of which there are few in existence. According to a Wikipedia description of a now-hidden article written by an intelligence firm, the Croatian military only deployed eight Rak-12s before putting 60 in storage.
The Rak-12s were withdrawn because they were quickly succeeded by other weapons systems, including the M-63 Plamen and the self-propelled LOV RAK-24. According to several sources, the only other country that uses the weapon is Azerbaijan, which purchased 10 Rak-12s in 2012, as well as 20,000 rockets).
This video shows the use of the Rak-12 in a training excercise by the Azerbaijan military:
The weapon is so rare that Wikipedia does not list the Rak-12 on its list of artillery rockets. We found out about itthough a Chinese website on Multiple-Launch Rockets, which noted this weapon is often confused with the Type 63.
Screenshots of the new rebel weapon:
The Croatian Rak-12:
The control box and the targeting sight on the left, the enclosed casing at the back, even the handle --- which we believe is used for aiming the weapon --- all these match the pictures of the Croatian Rak-12.
If the insurgents are in possession of a Rak-12 from Croatia, then the question arises how they obtained it. That brings us to an interesting dimension of the video.
The narrator, Abu Jamal, has appeared in other footage featured on EA. In our exclusive on weapons purchased by Saudi Arabia making it to Syria's front lines, we saw Abu Jamal at a training session where insurgents were trained on how to use the Croatian anti-tank weapons.
Then Abu Jamal was present at the key battlefields near the Golan Heights. He has been seen at insurgent victories all across Daraa Province.
Abu Jamal's presence at the ever-shifting front lines, and his level of access to sensitive events, indicates that he has a significant position in the insurgent command. He is the embedded spokesman: if he is at a location, the leadership has likely sent him there to document their important news.
So the iinsurgency wants it to be known that it can obtain advanced weaponry, made in locations far frm Syria.
Still, the mystery of "from where?" remains. Abu Jamal says in the video that the insurgents captured this weapon from Assad. However, to our knowledge, the Syrian military does not have a weapon system that uses the 128mm rockets: so why go to the trouble of obtaining a rare Croatian weapon?
Then again, why would Abu Jamal lie?
After the information spread that the insurgents had Croatian weapons, many in the opposition became angry at the exposure. There were further complications when significant events --- such as the claimed insurgent mortar attack that killed 12 students at Damascus Univerisity, and the capture of 21 United nations peacekeepers in the Golan --- pointed to opposition units as unpredictable and dangerous. Some of those units have been directly tied to foreign efforts to arm the Syrian insurgents.
So, according to multiple EA sources inside and outside Syria, insurgent commanders were told to keep closer control of YouTube content.
Confirmation of the foreign-supported arming of Syrian insurgents with longer-range weapons such as the RAK-12 would be sensitive as an escalation of intervention --- on Thursday, French President Francois Hollande said Paris was pulling away from the supply of arms --- so there is an incentive to hide the real supplier of the weapon.
1448 GMT: Another keen reader shares this video, reportedly taken near the Damascus International Airport on March 18th. It clearly shows the RAK-12 launcher being used, reportedly to target the airport and its surrounding bases.
We should add that this corresponds to reports of increased fighting in the area for weeks.
The significance of this weapon appearing near the Damascus International Airport is described below.
1418 GMT: The video of the RAK-12 posted at the top of this entry was reportedly taken in Daraa province. That's not surprising, Abu Jamal, the rebel spokesman, has spent at least the last 2-3 months in Daraa province. However, a keen-eyed observer has noticed that just yesterday this weapon was spotted on the battlefield near the Damascus International Airport:
This is massively significant. As I mentioned, from what we know about these weapons they are very rare. Also, when the initial wave of Croatian weapons made it to Syria, one of the first locations outside of Daraa the weapon was spotted was near the Damascus International Airport.
We can't confirm the location based on this video, but it was shared by the Revolutionary Military Council of Damascus, which is typically reliable.