As the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL depending on the context) has coalesced into a nation state, it has acquired a diverse selection of military hardware. This includes armoured units. Among the various pieces of equipment deployed by ISIS are the Badger MRAP, Humvees, T-54/55, T-62, and T-72 main battle tanks (MBT), as well as M1117 armoured cars, MT-LB, BMP-1, and M113 APCs. The tanks, MT-LB and BMP-1 are Soviet Stock, and the Humvee, M1117, and M113 are all native to the United States. Depending on the sophistication of ISIS armoured vehicle recovery and repair, possible additions include the US native M1 Abrams MBT. ISIS armoured stock are spoils of war; possibly captured from a variety of places including the Iraqi Military, the Military of Syria, and other militant groups, as well as Iran. On the ground ISIS is currently fighting against a multitude of opponents; this could include any of the following,
- Other militant groups
- Kurdish forces
- The Military of Syria
- The Military of Iraq
- The Military of Iran
Given the nature of the acquisition of ISIS’s military equipment and the highly fluid nature of the conflict in which she is fighting, her inventory of Armoured Fighting Vehicles has the potential to change rapidly. Future acquisitions could easily include more of the above as well as: M1 Abrams MBT, BMP-2, et al..
The actual size of ISIS’s armoured units is difficult to estimate given ongoing acquisitions and attrition; although it had been noted as being approximately 40 strong for two of the MBTs: 30 T-54/55 and roughly 10 T-72 tanks. Although these estimates were from earlier in the year regarding the T-54/55 and T-72. ISIS employs a strong collection of Technicals; pick-up Trucks with mounted weapons (and possibly armour as well); ISIS’s limit for these vehicles realistically is limited to her desire as pick-up trucks and supporting mountable weapons should be in ample supply. In a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article it was estimated that ISIS employs approximately 30 M1 Abrams already. Given the state of the war, it is not a question of if, but rather when ISIS will expand it’s inventory of US military hardware. However despite this fact the M1 Abrams is an iconic weapon system; given ISIS’s documented interest in lauding its perceived attacks on the West, including the murder recently of US journalists, it would seem logical that an M1 Abrams would prove an excellent backdrop for an ISIS propaganda video. As such I do not believe ISIS currently has any M1 Abrams.
Based on my own research (with an emphasis on visual evidence) I estimate the following numbers for ISIS’s AFV inventory,
- T-54/55 MBT – 10 to 20; stock from either of the Syrian or Iraqi military. Likely from the Syrian civil war including all combatants.
- T-72 MBT – 3 to 5; stock from either of the Syrian or Iraqi military. Likely from the Syrian civil war including all combatants.
- T-62 MBT – 20 to 30; stock from either of the Syrian or Iraqi military. A large stock of these were captured from the Iraqi military however the Syrian Civil War would have also fostered an environment to acquire these.
- MT-LB – 3; seized from the Iraqi military; also possibly in use by Syrians.
- M113 – 3 to 5; including two captured from the Iraqi military.
- BMP-1 – 3 to 5; stock from the Syrian military from the Syrian civil war including all combatants.
- M1117 – 3 to 5; several seized from the Iraqi military
- Badger MRAP – 3 or less; seized from the Iraqi military.
- 2S1 Gvozdika Self Propelled Artillery – 3 or less; stock from either of the Syrian or Iraqi military.
- 2K12 Kub (SA-6 Gainful) SAM missile systems – 3 captured in Iraq from the Iraqi military.
- Humvees – perhaps 10 to 20 acquired from the Iraqi military.
I estimate ISIS total inventory at approximately 80 vehicles at most; this does not include Technicals and related vehicles such as Humvees. Technicals by far represent the majority of AFVs employed by ISIS; with the above representing a small fraction: perhaps as little as 1 to 3% although likely 1% or less. Given ISIS’s resources, she is well equiped to use and maintain these systems; the exception being the 2K12 Kub system’s main armament. There are claims that the US weapons systems will prove difficult to maintain; with a lack of spare parts and technical expertise. This is false; ISIS’s arrary of Technicals includes many illustrating a high degree of inginuity and resourcefulness. It is hubris to think that ISIS is incapable of maintaining its inventory of AFVs; her real limits will be with missiles of any size including captured ballistic missiles and aircraft. Further, ISIS is well equipped with mobile man operated anti-aircraft systems such as shoulder fired manpad systems. These systems provide a degree of secuirty for ISIS’s AFVs; while not absolute, they are a major factor for consideration in any airstrike targeting ISIS AFVs.
A video showing captured T-62 MBTs in a field; ISIS captured these from the Iraqi Military. They sit with a few APCs, possibly Soviet MT-LB APCs. I estimate in this video 10 T-62 and 3 MT-LB AFVs along with possibly 2 more MT-LB and 3 more T-62 in the far background.
Another video showing a parade of armour including T-62 MBTs and a BMP-1.
A video showing ISIS Technicals and an M113 APC.
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