The Lions of Al-Tawhid, Revisited.
Earlier this year, Bryan Denton and I profiled the Lions of al-Tawhid, a Syrian anti-government fighting group operating in the Aleppo Governorate. (The NYT newspaper account of the group is here, the NYT video there and this is Bryan’s slide show.)
Since then, there have been several on-line glimpses of the group, its fighters and commander, Abdul Hakim Yasin.
One of the most interesting new views can be seen above, in the screen grab of this very brief and recent Youtube video, which shows Hakim with an SA-7 MANPADS.
The SA-7 is an early generation in the Soviet line of shoulder-fired, heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles. Back in the summer, Hakim told us to stick around and we’d see these weapons soon, as he had placed an order for them with an Iraqi smuggler, and already made an advance payment for the weapons. We watched him meet the smuggler, who then set off back to Iraq. (The gentleman, a Sunni Arab from Anbar Province, declined to be photographed, but sat for a meal that afternoon and discussed his work. )
There is no way to tell from this video where this particular SA-7 came from. It might have come from Base 46, which was stormed and captured by rebels not long before this video was posted. Or it might have come from any other number of places, including Iraq.
It does show that Hakim was true to his word. It also is a useful data point for watching the spread of these weapons, as it suggests what has been ever more apparent in recent weeks — a fuller acquisition by rebels of weapons that can challenge the Syrian Air Force (in the near term) and will pose regional security challenges (in the long).
Where you stand on this probably depends on who you are. You might support this if you support the rebels and their cause. You won’t much like it if you are a member of a Syrian Mi-8 helicopter crew, or depend upon those aircraft and those crews for medevac and ammunition resupply. Or you might see this and wonder, if you have no immediate stake in the life expectancy of the Syrian Air Force or in defending your neighborhood and people from its attacks, about the future safety of air travel in the Middle East. No matter your position today, there are grounds to take note.