Never mind that the vehicle is a boxy, lumbering, second-hand set of wheels with a top speed of just 60 mph. To some of the fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. M1117, aka the Guardian Armored Security Vehicle, has become their favorite ride.
Or so says Jeremy Binnie, editor of Jane’s Terrorism and Security Monitor, who has monitored propaganda sites for reports of jihadis toting, towing or tooling around in some of the millions of dollars’ worth of U.S.- and other foreign-built military equipment that ISIS captured after it swept into northern Iraq in early June.
A promotional video by the manufacturer, Textron Marine and Land Systems, touts the four-wheel-drive, amphibious vehicle as “survivable,” due to its armor, and “lethal,” with its mounted grenade launcher and heavy machine gun. The vehicles, which can cost more than $600,000 each, are everything, apparently, that the modern militant could ask for.
“I’m sure Textron will be very happy,” Binnie said. “Their vehicle has the thumbs up from the Islamic State.”
By authorizing the first of dozens of airstrikes against militants in Iraq on Aug. 8 and dispatching more than 1,000 troops there as military advisers, President Barack Obama has sent U.S. forces back to a conflict that many Americans wanted to forget.
In battles from Afghanistan to Iraq, the United States defeated conventional forces equipped mainly with Soviet-design hardware. Now as the United States conducts air sorties in areas controlled by ISIS, the United States faces the prospect of having some of its own modern weapons systems turned against its military forces and those of its Iraqi allies.
“It’s a cautionary tale, in terms of the consequences of sending more arms to the Kurds and the Iraqi security forces,” said William Hartung, author and director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy in Washington. “I think once you send this kind of equipment into the middle of a civil war, it’s hard to say where it will end up.”
Michael Pregent, a former U.S. Army officer who speaks Arabic and has worked for the Defense Department in Iraq as a military and political analyst, estimated that the militants have captured up to 60 of the three heaviest pieces of U.S.-built equipment in the Iraqi arsenal — M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M109 self-propelled howitzers.
Pregent, who is now an adjunct lecturer at National Defense University, said some of these weapons were used in attacks on the Kurdish Peshmerga militia forces defending their semi-autonomous region. ISIS’ threat to the Kurdish capital of Erbil triggered the United States’ intervention.
A video of the first U.S. airstrikes shows a U.S.-made F/A-18 Hornet, which cost roughly $61 million, bombing what appears to be a U.S.-made M198 towed howitzer, which cost $527,000, in the hands of insurgents. Both Pregent and Birnie said the artillery piece was clearly identifiable in the video.