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 [email protected]