Friday, July 24, 2015

The discreet use of BGM-71 TOW ATGM in Iraq points to Iran

The discreet use of BGM-71 TOW ATGM in Iraq points to Iran

Iraqi security forces (ISF) and popular mobilization units (PMU) are fully engaged in a bloody fight against the self-named "Islamic State" (ISIS) and their local allies since June 2014 and the fall of Mosul city. In this fight, foreign support to Iraqi government revealed to be crucial. After the rapid expansion of ISIS, Iran poured fighters and military support into Iraq.  The not exhaustive list of Iranian military assistance to Iraq includes  IRGC Su-25K and Su-25UBKM-40 106mm recoilless canon & 107mm MRLS variant of Safir tactical120mm HM-20 and HM-27 MRLS, AM.50 sniperT-72S MBT, rifles, night vision equipments, munitions. On the anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) ground,  ISF and PMU are lightly equipped with Russian supplied 9M133 Kornet (ATGM) that some analysts took for the Iranian variant of the missile, the Dehlaviyeh. Despite producing a significant varieties of ATGMs, there was no evidence of Iranian supplied ATGM... until the battle of Jurf al Sakhr in October 2014. Indeed, Fars News Agency, an Iranian semi-official news agency, released a report on Jurf Al Sakhr on the 26th October 2014 who went unnoticed. Was included in the article a picture of Asaib-Ahl-Al-Haq fighters posing in front of a TOW ATGM launcher. 

AAH fighters with a TOW ATGM launched - Jurf Al Sakhr

Iraq is not known to have received any TOW ATGM from United State. The fact that an Iranian backed Shia force, not ISF, was seen with the missile point to an Iranian origin of it. After the battle of Jurf Al Sakhr, more evidences emerged showing PMU forces with TOW ATGM. The Iraqi Al Sumaria news agency posted on the 5th March 2015, a photo-reportage covering the Tikrit battle. One of the pictures shows Badr fighters with a TOW ATGM launcher. 

Badr fighters with a TOW ATGM launcher - Tikrit area

One can argue that the TOW ATGMs may have been captured from ISIS fighters who're known to operate a limited number of US/Gulf provided TOW ATGM in Syria. Indeed, the Jurf Al Sakhr & Tikrit TOW ATGMs have the standard optical sight which is widely used by countries who operate the TOW ATGMs. 2 evidences shut down the US/Gulf TOW ATGM's option. Firstly,  the 3 yellow bands on the tripod point to Iran. In effect, Iranians use this specific pattern for their TOW ATGMs . The US/Gulf provided TOW ATGMs have a 3 black bands on the tripod.   Secondly, you have noticed the green tape on Tikrit TOW ATGM. This is actually an Iran electronic industry security seal used to make sure no one opens the launcher. Most of Iranian TOW ATGMs have this green tape. For example, you can find a close-up of the green tape here during a military event in Rashd. The green tape is also present on the Hezbollah's TOW ATGM

The last picture of TOW ATGM in Iraq was posted by the Facebook fan page of Salam Al Dirawi,  Badr commander, head of Basra PMU who was killed in a road accident last week. The picture taken in Hamrin mountains last April shows Dirawi holding a TOW ATGM without launcher. The TOW ATGM bellow have a red band (for the warhead) and a black band (for the propellent).  This not the standard color codes of TOW ATGMs. Usually, the TOW ATGMs have a yellow (  HE explosive) or blue ( practice) and a brown (Low explosive charge usually used for spotting or expelling the payload). 

I was unable to find another TOW ATGM using a light red band for the warhead but some of Iranian and Hezbollah TOW ATGMs use a black band for the propellent. 

Late Badr leader, Salam Al Dirwai with a TOW ATGM missile. 

The scale of TOW ATGMs deliveries is still not clear but compared to the other iranian military assistances (T-72S, Safir, HM-20...) the ATGMs keep a very low profile. Still, the increasing use of tactical suicide vehicles by ISIS against ISF & PMU will probably bring the TOW ATGMs under the spotlights 

Update : On the 3rd August, Liwa Ali Al Akbar commander, Abu Turab shared a picture of he thinks to be a downed "spy device". What he's holding in his hands is actually the launcher motor of a BGM-71 TOW ATGM. Thanks to Badr activists, i was able to find the location and more picture of the missile parts. The missile was recovered in Al- Siniyah, east of Baiji where ISF & PMU are fighting ISIS since months. 

Given the absence of distinctive elements, it's not possible to confirm the Iranian origin of this TOW ATGM but it's safe to say that this is the first time a TOW ATGM was used in Baiji front. 

PS : Special thanks to The Arkenstone Oryx


  1. here is a Iranian Tow missile production line

  2. Ah, la mondialisation des contrefaçons touche tout les secteurs ;)