DEIR SONBUL, Syria — The government of Syria, trying to contain a rapidly expanding insurgency, has resorted to one of the dirty tricks of the modern battlefield: salting ammunition supplies of antigovernment fighters with ordnance that explodes inside rebels’ weapons, often wounding and sometimes killing the fighters while destroying many of their hard-found arms.
The practice, which rebels said started in Syria early this year, is another element of the government’s struggle to combat the opposition as Syria’s military finds itself challenged across a country where it was not long ago an uncontested force. The government controls the skies, and with aircraft and artillery batteries it has pounded many rebel strongholds throughout this year. But the rebels continue to resist, mostly with small arms.
Doctored ammunition offers an insidious way to undermine the rebels’ confidence in their ammunition supply while simultaneously thinning their ranks.
“When they do this, you will lose both the man and the rifle,” said Ghadir Hammoush, the commander of a fighting group in Idlib Province who said he knew of five instances in which rifles had exploded from booby-trapped ammunition.
The practice has principally involved rifle and machine-gun cartridges, but also the projectiles for rocket-propelled grenades and perhaps mortar rounds, according to interviews with more than a half-dozen rebel leaders in Syria and many fighters, as well as an examination of shattered rifles and the contents of a booby-trapped cartridge. The tactic is highly controversial, in that it is potentially indiscriminate.
The primary source for doctored ammunition has been the Syrian government, which mixes exploding cartridges with ordinary rounds on the black markets through which rebels acquire weapons, the commanders said.
Some booby-trapped ammunition may also have entered Syria from Iraq, where during the most recent war the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency secretly passed doctored ammunition to insurgent groups, several American veterans and officials said.
The United States runs a similar program in Afghanistan, trying to undermine the Taliban. The United States has provided humanitarian and communications aid to the Syrian rebels, but has refused to supply weapons of any kind.
The practice of manufacturing and surreptitiously distributing tampered military equipment that explodes at unexpected times has a long history, but it is not often publicly documented as it happens. The British and German militaries used the tactic in World War II, and the United States developed exploding Kalashnikov ammunition in the 1960s and leaked it to South Vietnamese guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers.
One classified American ordnance intelligence document, viewed by The New York Times, suggests that the Soviet Union pursued a similar program in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Governments labor to keep their doctored-weapons programs secret, in part because they are potentially indiscriminate and often provide enemy forces with working ammunition, with which the rigged ammunition has been mixed. The tactic can also jeopardize friendly forces, causing casualties or destroying weapons among government troops or proxies — raising political sensitivities and eroding morale.
Nicholas Marsh, a research fellow at the Peace Research Institute Oslo who covers arms and arms trafficking, said that for these reasons, while there are many precedents, the tactic is not widespread.
“The problem with them is the same as with land mines,” Mr. Marsh said. “You can’t be sure who is going to pick up and try to use the spiked ammunition.”
In many cases in Syria, the spiked ammunition found its intended target: fighters seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. The wounding of Muhammad Saleh Hajji Musa, 36, in the highlands of Jebel al-Zawiya, provided an example.
Mr. Musa was part of a group that had surrounded a government checkpoint late this spring and was pressing its attack. As he fired his rifle, he said, there was an explosion between his hands. It knocked him over.
“I thought a shell had landed on me,” he said. Mr. Musa’s face was badly cut, and his right hand was mangled. He spent months convalescing, but he is now fighting again. His hand remains twisted and scarred.
[This is an elegant tactic, I'm all for it]
In: Regional News, Syria, Weapons, Conspiracy, Science and Technology
Tags: Syria, FSA, Spiked, Explosive, Ammuntion
Location: Aleppo, Aleppo Governorate, Syria (load item map)
Marked as: approved
Views: 12131 | Comments: 169 | Votes: 12 | Favorites: 14 | Shared: 33 | Updates: 0 | Times used in channels: 3
|Liveleak on Facebook|