Combined Small Arms and SVBIED Attack in Raqqa

News footage from a Kurdistan24 television crew, and overhead drone footage taken from a so-called Islamic State propaganda video both show a so-called IS attack in the Syrian city of Raqqa, where Kurdish SDF forces are battling the rebel group with the support of the United States. Driving heavily armed SVBIEDs (Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device) into enemy positions is one of the most deadly tactics of the group in the current conflicts of Syria and Iraq. A study from the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy at West Point highlighted the fact that the so-called Islamic State was using as many as fourteen SVBIEDs a day in the Mosul fight against Iraqi forces.

What is very significant about this video, is that the SVBIED attack against Kurdish forces involved a two man team of suicide bombers. One man drove the vehicle, while another manned a mounted machine gun on the back of the vehicle. As the SVBIED approached the Kurdish position, the machine gunner kept up a constant rate of fire to keep the heads down of any RPG gunners, or anti-material riflemen that could potentially take out the SVBIED as it was bearing down on the position, something that is the best defense against such attacks. This situation also creates a paradoxical diversion because who do you shoot at if you are defending a position? Even if you take out the machine gunner within the several second and distance closing window of them bearing down on you, you still have to deal with the oncoming explosion. But if you concentrate on the driver of the vehicle or have an HE solution, the machine gunner could still potentially target your team.

The first take-away from this new tactic is how effective it can be, using a team, or even more bombers to carry it out. Coupled with a combined arms approach of suppressing fire from ground teams, possibly even a drone launched attack as well, this could literally be an unstoppable combination from the point of view of a small force such as the Kurds have on deck in Raqqa. In addition, it is something that all of the coalition fighting the so-called Islamic State need to start being on the lookout for.

The second take-away is that the Kurdish forces in Raqqa need to step up their game. Such a basic security concern such as positioning fighters on the roof for overwatch wasn’t even adhered to. There was no return fire at the SVBIED whatsoever, and there obviously wasn’t a security perimeter around the building, nor did it appear that the adjacent buildings were cleared and occupied. Forces get pushed forward to positions past friendly lines in MOUT battles, it happens. But this overall lack of security is simply going to get more Kurds killed in the fight ahead.


Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at


  • Ευστάθιος Παλαιολόγος

    Will be interesting if in the future such tactics are used by more advanced forces in the form of a “suicide armed robot vehicle” packed with explosives

    • TrustMeIAmEngineer

      “suicide armed robot vehicle” have been in use for a long time. They’re just called guided munitions.

      • ostiariusalpha

        That’s not the kind of armed that Ευστάθιος is talking about. Those guided munitions may be “suicidal,” but they don’t have (or need, really) guns mounted to them to suppress defensive fire.

    • mig1nc

      Isn’t that how they killed the Dallas shooter?

  • Major Tom

    The answer to SVBIED’s like these is as it’s called in Russian “Ruchnoy Protivotankovy Granatomiot” or “Hand-held Anti-Tank Grenade Launcher”. Also known as RPG. One round both bomber and gunner die.

    • Marcus D.

      Yes, but you still have to hit a rapidly moving vehicle outside of its blast radius, because the RPG will assuredly detonate the contents. With an unguided munition, this is easier said than done. In urban areas, the SVBIED tries to give the enemy no more than a block or two to react.

  • Miguel Sanchez

    Abu Hajaar RIDES AGAIN!

    • Requiescat in pace

      Helluva chaos.
      Looks like same skool as good old Abu Hajaar was graduated from.
      Keep on wondering, how friendly fires and fire arms accidents are not ending their movement?

  • USMC03Vet

    Firearms not basic infantry skills.

    • Dougscamo

      Haven’t seen him lately….

  • Tassiebush

    I always enjoy this meme on an Australian suicide bomber

    • Dougscamo

      HAHAHA! “Greetings! My name is Ali-Bubba, rump-ranger. Do you like gladiator movies?”

  • Tassiebush

    The armoured car and truck bombs definitely seem to be the main edge ISIS has. It’s noticeable how in a lot of footage of conflict between Kurds and ISIS earth moving equipment and big berms feature heavily. It must be a very challenging threat to manage.

  • wicapiwakan

    When we’re talking about the Kurdish forces, it is helpful to remember that most of them are not professional soldiers. They’re ad-hoc militias thrown together by an unrecognized state, many of them even foreign volunteers. Their training is minimal, and their equipment is very much whatever they can get.

    Forces like the USMC have a lot of luxuries that these Kurdish militias do not.

    If we want them to start behaving like a professional army, our government could try finally recognizing them as an independent state and helping them get the resources they need to adequately train and equip soldiers, but we’d rather leave them in a state of limbo so we can betray them (for the umpteenth time) as soon as is convenient.