C.J. Chivers writes: As the war in Syria escalated this year, fighters opposed to President Bashar al-Assad reached for arms from many sources, including weapons manufactured by their own hands: Molotov cocktails, roadside bombs and locally made mortars and rockets. These are the familiar tools of modern insurgencies — weapons of choice or necessity for fighters who begin conflicts with limited means.
But a more surprising phenomenon is also present on Syria’s battlefields: pro-government forces are using makeshift weapons, too.
The development of improvised ordnance for both the Syrian military and loyalist militias, or shabiha, is at this point beyond dispute. Since this summer, evidence has surfaced showing the remains of so-called “barrel bombs,” which have been dropped from government aircraft, and the presence of a particular type of improvised rocket that has a history of use against American forces in Iraq. Both have been dropped or fired repeatedly into rebel-controlled territory. And both summon intriguing questions, for which answers remain elusive.
According to conventional wisdom, pro-government forces should be well equipped by weapons from Russia and China and, to a lesser extent, Iran. But for some reason they have resorted to crafting weapons to complement, or perhaps even replace, their standard arms. We are not sure why, though theories abound. [Continue reading…]