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28 Nov, 2015 05:03

US anti-tank TOW missile used in attack on RT journalists in Syria

A US-made anti-tank missile system was used in an attack on an RT crew in Syria, a mounting body of evidence suggests. Journalists recognized the area, while experts confirmed that a booster found by the Syrian army matches the TOW seen in a rebel video.

A baldly titled video – ‘Jihadists Launch TOW at Journalists’ – was recently posted online and clearly shows a group of Syrian rebels firing a US-made anti-tank missile launcher. Upon reviewing the video, RT’s Roman Kosarev, who was among the group of Russian journalists which miraculously survived an attack from a similar weapon earlier this week, recognized the area and the chain of events which subsequently unfolded.

“The landscape is very very reminiscent of the one when we came under fire from militants just a few days ago, on November 23,” Kosarev said. “And actually you can see people running for cover at a distance and I'm pretty sure it must have been us. And that person running in the back must be me.”

There is no doubt that rebels in the video had been firing a US-made BGM-71 TOW, not so-covertly supplied by Washington to the so-called moderate Syrian opposition, Kosarev insisted, with security and arms experts corroborating his statements.

Immediately after the attack on the Russian crew, the Syrian army swept the area and found a launch booster from the rocket that hit the media convoy. Experts agreed that it was “highly unlikely” that the booster, featuring distinctive markings, might belong to any other kind of weapon, but the system in question.

The BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided) is one of the most widely used anti-tank guided missiles, which has been produced in the US since the 1970s. The missile has an operational range of up to 4,200 meters and an armor penetration of between 600 and 800 millimeters depending on the model. Hundreds of the systems have fallen into the hands of various rebel factions over the years of the Syrian conflict.

“It is clearly an American weapon system. It is consistent, that lettering, with the TOW system,” security analyst and former counter-terrorism intelligence officer Charles Shoebridge told RT upon reviewing the photo and video evidence. “And indeed it has been openly supplied by the US and indeed by US allies in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia to rebel groups. So therefor it would not at all be surprising to find this weapon system in the hands of the rebel groups and being used by them.”

“Perhaps notably last year a very large consignment of these weapons in the thousands were shipped to Saudi Arabia by the US as part of the arms supply,” Shoebridge added.

“And of course Saudi Arabia has been in the forefront supplying Syrian rebel groups, including to what in the West should really be called extremist rebels groups, with these fairly sophisticated and certainly powerful weapons.”

All the separate pieces of information are consistent with the version that Syrian rebels used a US-made weapons system against RT journalists, Shoebridge said. However, he admitted that from an “evidential perspective” it is hard to tie them all together.

Moreover, the same model of TOW was used by the rebels to destroy a grounded Russian helicopter involved in the Su-24 rescue operation, according to a video leaked earlier this week, a former senior security policy analyst in the office of the US Secretary of Defense Michael Maloof told RT. The tripods that the system was mounted on in on both of the videos allow a high degree of mobility, “especially when you are hiding in an ambush environment,” Maloof pointed out.

“TOWs have gone into Syria to so-called moderate groups, Sunni fighters really, ever since Russia actually began bombing. So the amounts of TOWs going in there has actually increased. And the Saudis of course are paying for a lot of it,” Maloof added.

“In the case of Syria [TOWs] have been supplied clandestinely under CIA operation through Turkey to various fighters that they have identified as being moderate,” Maloof added. “But these moderates are generally with the Free Syrian Army, and most of them have gone to join the Islamic fighters of either Al-Nusra or Daesh [ISIS].”

After Syrian rebels, apparently from the FSA, had been caught firing an anti-tank missile at a Russian helicopter, RT’s correspondent Gayane Chichakyan asked a US State Department spokesperson whether it was kind of action Washington expects from a “moderate rebel” force.

READ MORE: FSA video claims Russian-made helicopter hit with US-made TOW missile near Su-24 crash site

Citing a “complex environment” and scarce information he had about the downing of Russian Su-24 by the Turkish air force and subsequent pilot rescue mission, in which the helicopter came under fire, Mark Toner dodged the question and refused to condemn rebels’ actions.

“I mean, first of all, we have supplied some of the Syrian forces that are fighting ISIL in northern Syria. We’ve talked about that before. But there’s frankly many ways you can get – I mean, we’ve also been providing equipment and weaponry to Iraqi military as well,” Toner said on Tuesday,

“So I can’t speak to the specific incident,” Toner added, instead resorting to vague accusations that Russian airstrikes “in many cases are directed at moderate Syrian opposition forces,” which according to Washington is making situation on the ground “even more complex.”

The State Department is yet to comment on the rebels’ apparent use of TOW against Russian journalists.

Overall, the attacked media convoy included 17 people, all wearing jackets clearly marking them out as press. The convoy was targeted deliberately, journalists said, as they had been receiving death threats from local terrorist groups.

READ MORE: RT journalists injured in shelling on Syria-Turkey border back in Moscow

RT English channel correspondent Roman Kosarev, his RT Arabic colleague, Sargon Hadaya, and TASS reporter Alexander Yelistratov who were all injured in the attack safely arrived in Moscow on Thursday.