Fighters who shot down a Russian helicopter in Syria might have been trained by private military advisers from NATO countries
The July 8’s crash of two Russian helicopter pilots in Syria is another evidence that the Daesh fighters have modern weaponry at their disposal, including the highlight of this article – the American anti-tank missile TOW. The press and ISIS itself had reported its efficiency in the war against the government forces on numerous occasions.
«Tamer of Assad»
The American anti-tank missile TOW is designed for battling tanks and other heavily armored military vehicles on the ground or in the sea. However, the practice has shown that these missiles could hit low-flying helicopters. It was made operational in 1970, and has been constantly modernized since. The range of the TOW-2A and TOW-2B missiles is from 15 to 3750 meters. The warhead of the missile weighs 22,6 kg, can pierce 850-900 mm of hull protected by reactive armor, and is guided through wire or radio channel. The ATMs can be mounted upon mobile ground and sea vehicles, and also helicopters.
TOW is in service in 50 countries; by 2007, there had been produced more than 700 thousand missiles. It had been used in the Vietnam War (1957-1975), Yom Kippur War (1973), Iran-Iraq War, Lebanon War, and also in Iraq (1990-1991, 2003-2007). The most recent example is Syria where TOW has been used since 2011. In 2015, the Syrian fighters acquired TOWs equipped with night vision devices.
This complex has provided much impact on the Syrian battleground, and yet there are more of technologically advanced weapons in Islamists’ possession. Besides tanks and artillery, fighters have got drones, optoelectronic devices for reconnaissance, communication and control, mines, explosives and other means of warfare. The same situations had been observed earlier in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other spots of tension.
All that raises a question: how come is it that fighters have exploited such complicated weaponry without appropriate military education?
Who trains the combatants?
Having modern warfare equipment at one’s disposal is one thing, but being able to use it is quite another. It is known that there is a developed infrastructure of boot camps where future fighters and terrorists are trained to handle weapons and unleash their full potential on their enemies. Experienced instructors teach theory and practice of combat to “warriors of jihad”. Who were they, those “teachers”, before cooperation with anti-government and terrorist forces?
As a rule, instructors are either weathered fighters and mercenaries, or active and retired career soldiers. The motives of the former are clear. As long as they are paid, they will not care what they get their money for.
As for the latter, who are the most valuable instructors, it is different.
It has for a long time been an open secret that instructors in training camps are active military professionals from NATO countries, particularly from Turkey. According to the Syrian intelligence, fighters received a consignment of drones, grenade launchers, grenades and TOW missiles from the Turkish security service in June 2016. At a military camp located to the south-east of Istanbul, in the village of Azmit, fighters are trained to use the portable air-defense system Stinger and anti-tank missile system TOW. At another camp, in the Zerba community, Turkish military instructors train fighters for combat operations. After that, fighters who are prepared to face aviation and heavily armored vehicles in battle are transferred to the northern provinces of Syria, including the district of Aleppo.
Downfall of the Mi-25 helicopter. Screenshot from: ntv.ru
However, such involvement of active military cadres in the training of radical fighters can raise “inconvenient” questions for governments as they bear certain political and social responsibilities. Although that kind of information is confidential, sometimes embarrassing “leaks” do happen.
This is why since 1960’s, they have employed private military companies (PMC) to take care of “dirty” affairs and “sensitive” issues. Nowadays, these organizations are the most efficient, if the least “painless”, means of achieving goals for government agencies.
PMC as smokescreen for government agencies
Modern private military companies are legal commercial structures staffed by skillful retired military professionals and engineers who receive tasks from their employer. PMCs plan their actions same as regular forces, but they have more freedom to choose tactical and strategic means.
Private military companies do not disturb the Western society as much as presence of regular soldiers in foreign countries. The companies deploy their forces and equipment faster than do most armies, their flexible organizational structure is not hindered by bureaucracy, and their expenses in lives and finances are not reflected in official government reports. All this explains why politically ill governments prefer to employ PMCs.
Today, there are over 450 private military companies registered all over the world. It is a proven fact that during the first nine months of Barack Obama’s presidency, the number of armed personnel of contractors of the Ministry of Defense had increased from 3184 to 10712. According to various estimations, representatives of private military companies in Afghanistan amount to 22-30% from the number of American soldiers in this country, not counting those serving the interests of the Department of State or Central Intelligence Agency. In Afghanistan and Iraq alone act few hundred private military and security companies, employing over 265 thousand military cadres.
The activity of PMCs increased in the course of the Arab spring in Libya, Syria and other countries of the Middle East. It is known that the Blackwater private military company, acting at the commission of the CIA, had recruited over 6 thousand of Arabian, Afghani and Turkish mercenaries for illegal operations.
As of now, the government of the United Arab Emirates is forming a battalion of foreign mercenaries with the help of one of the PMCs at the price of $529 million. The officer personnel of this military group includes veterans from the USA, South Africa, German and British special services, French Foreign Legion, etc. All of them have real battle experience; the same is demanded from private soldiers.
Private military companies can be used not only in foreign but also in domestic policy. The U.S. Army Operating Concept for 2016-2028 implies that PMCs can be engaged in domestic issue to localize unrests and perform other missions. Of course, such companies can do the same on the territory of other states too. Currently, many private military companies are funded directly by the Department of State, CIA and other American governmental structure, and are funded substantially. At the same time, few men are allowed to know exactly what they do and how they act.
It is convenient for the US government to employ private military companies for two reasons. Firstly, mercenaries, while adding to real military power, are not counted as official soldiers, which helps prevent or sooth discontent of the domestic population and world community. Secondly, American generals can underreport losses among regular soldiers, because losses of private military groups are not included in the official statistics. It should be noted that they are quite huge: private military companies in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries have lost from twice to thrice as many combatants as the US Army. Last but not the least, delegating the “dirty” job to PMCs allows the USA to maintain its image of protector of democracy and those suffering from tyranny.
Most of what described above is true for private military companies employed by other countries.
In the end, the term “private military companies” does not fully correlate with what they really are. In fact, PMCs are most often employed by the governments of those countries where their headquarters are located. Consequently, private military companies act on the order of governments and are an efficient tool of foreign policy.
Lastly, whoever and however advocates or criticizes PMCs, the cornerstone of their nature is money. And to earn that money, they are ready to spill blood anywhere they are told to.
Translated by Daniil Yakovenko