DIY weaponry of Syria's rebels


The Atlantic has a fascinating photo gallery about the DIY Weapons of the Syrian Rebels. Homebrew explosives are the norm, as are catapults (Reuters photo above) and tele-operated machine guns controlled with scavenged video game controllers.


  1. a lot of those captions are misleading. if you’re using a machine shop to produce mortar shells, those aren’t “improvised”. that’s just manufacturing. you can go to plenty of “legitimate” weapons factories around the world and see the same sort of work being done on the same machinery.

    1. Also some of them don’t mesh with logic.

      The slingshot photo above, for example, has soldiers milling about, smiling, looking relaxed while ostensibly launching bombs at active targets who are politely not returning fire. Another, the first in the actual article, has a slingshot that looks to be strung with rope, or some other non-elastic material, such that throwing the grenade would probably be more effective.

      There’s a third slingshot photo that looks more plausible, but the usage of the slingshots in the first place is suspect. They’re large, immobile, low-powered launching platforms with a limited ability to aim and a limited payload. Who or what are they being fired at? Why are hand-thrown grenades any less effective? Why go to the trouble of cobbling together all this scrap metal into a big, cumbersome, noticeable machine that doesn’t really do anything your arm couldn’t already do?

      1. The slingshot/catapult pictured above could fling grenades much further than your arm. A favoured method of the Syrian regime to kill FSA soldiers is snipers posted up high in buildings. I can see how these might help in fixing those guys with a nice little present.

      2. You are correct. It does not make sense as a weapon. Of course, as a piece of photo propaganda showing the rest of the world what plucky and resourceful guys the Syrian rebels are, it functions pretty well. Maybe *now* the Saudis will send them some actual functioning mortars.

      3. I remember a photo from WW2 (Winter War, to be exact), where a slingshot made from birch was used to propel hand grenades. Minimal assembly required due to the natural branch shape, and materials are abundant even in front lines.Can’t prove it was actually used, any more than in this case, but I can believe they could be useful in repeatedly getting similar accuracy over an extended range. Hand throwing can get tiring after the first 5 lobs, after which accuracy would fall.

    2. They are improvised because the weapons are being manufactured using whatever materials and processes are available and the explosive component comes from al-asshole’s unexploded ordinance.

  2. seems like there is more going on here than just “people rising against a dictator”. lots of these weapons are not easily made, and it appears that more experienced organizations are behind this e.g. al-qaeda.
    the regime is oppressive, but the alternative is also scary. what are they putting on the table? what we saw in libya is that various factions cannot form a decent government and are still fighting amongst each other. but you won’t hear about it in the news, because the “goal” was achieved.

    1. “Competent engineers and machinists” are a subset of “Syrian people”.  “Competent anything” are not, to all appearances, a subset of “members of Al-Qaeda”.
      This is well above the level of sophistication managed by Al-Qaeda – when AQ blows something up, it’s impressive that that bunch of nincompoops managed to make a bomb that both didn’t go off in the workshop, and did go off near its target.

      1. I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment. Many terrorists, particularly those raised in the west, but also those raised in the east, are well educated. In the Middle East, they are generally better educated than the general population. My impression is that the average goatherder simply doesn’t have enough free time or care enough to blow himself up.

        1. They may have education, but that’s different from competence.
          For example:

          One of the attackers was a medical doctor, the other was an engineer working on his PhD.  And yet neither of them apparently twigged that flammable gas isn’t going to explode if it’s not well mixed with a source of oxygen.

    2. You do understand that people from all fields are defecting from the Syrian Regime to the FSA? Soldiers, politicians, people who have the skills and knowledge to make weapons. Why are you so sure that AQ is involved?

      Also I think your assessment of Libya is particularly negative. Any burgeoning nation that is emerging from decades of dictatorship is bound to start off rocky. The phrase “various factions cannot form a decent government and are still fighting amongst each other” perfectly describes Italy and a host of other nations at the present moment anyway.

    3. Ask any Libyan you meet. Yes, they are having trouble forming a decent government. Historically speaking, so did we. You don’t wake up the day after a civil war ends and put together a decent government. You put something together, and with painstaking neverending effort, you get closer and closer to a decent government. It took us generations, which is why we still celebrate milestones that happened hundreds of years ago. 

      1. Every revolutionary whom I’ve ever talked to on the subject (and there have been many) has said that reconstruction is much harder and takes much longer than revolution. Unfortunately, people in countries that haven’t seen warfare in their neighborhoods in their lifetimes tend to watch the news like it’s an episode of Sesame Street.

  3. Talk about Makers. Geez.

    Crazy how they use smartphone compass apps to guide their improvised missile launchers.

    1. Holding the compass app up next to the launcher isn’t really all that advanced. It’s basically the same as using a compass.

      1. Yeah, that’s why the juxtaposition is so weird. You’d think with all that low-tech they’d just use a regular compass.

        1. In a pinch, you use what comes to hand.  It’s probably easier to find a smartphone than a compass these days.  Which, in its own way, is kind of neat/cool

  4. Isn’t it odd that when they’re on our side, they’re called “Rebels” but when they’re on the other side, they’re called “terrorists” or “insurgents”???

    “Rebels” conjures up an image of some nobel, righteous warrior standing up to the big oppressor like in Star Wars or something. But these guys are essentially using the same low budget guerilla warfare tactics as al-Qaeda.

    1.  I think it has to do with goals. In Syria they are rebelling from a dictator. Same with Libya. They are fighting for freedom.

      In Iraq the “rebels” were rebelling against the occupying forces and the democratic government they were trying to set up. They already had their freedom from Saddam . Now they are fighting to blow shit up and cause havoc, hence they are terrorists.

      So I think that is why the words are used in that way. I am trying to think about a war where “our side” wasn’t with the rebels. Egypt played nice with us, but they still had rebels. I don’t recall what they called the sides in the Balkans.

      1. The US has historically backed despots and dictators, forces that worked to overthrow legitimate democratic government and freedom, and we still called them “rebels”, or “freedom fighters”. The morality of the people we use those terms on is unrelated to the usage of those words. If they’re of political use to us, we use one set of words. If they’re not, we use the other.

        It’s no different than “enemies” and “allies”, really.

        1. THE US’s government and media has done that. So did the Soviet Union during the Cold War. And so have many other regimes. 

          That does not mean we, as witness to the Syrian Civil War, can’t make judgement calls on what kind of people are fighting in Syria.

      2. Right, when they fight the kind of government we think is good they are terrorists.  When they fight the kind of government we think is bad they are “rebels.”

        Except for when the dictator is in the good graces of the US, in which case when they fight the kind of government we think is bad they are still terrorists.  Unless it looks like they might win in which case the US will decry the horrible dictator and throw its — mostly rhetorical — support behind the terrorists — who have now become rebels by virtue of looking like they might win.

        The important thing to remember here is that a democratic government imposed by an invading foreign power could not possibly be undesirable or oppressive in any way to the people being invaded.  Therefore any people rebelling against such a government are by definition terrorists.

        On the other hand, if the US has an interest in undermining a democratic government and replacing it with a dictator (see Iran) those fighting the democratic government are “rebels,” not “terrorists” (see paragraph 2).

        1. If you think the government of Iran is democratic then you need to do a bit of reading on the history and political system of Iran.

    2. Totally agreed. And interestingly, the way the United States has put “terrorists” in a class without any rights whatsoever, even Geneva Convention protections, means that now everyone gets to call their enemies “terrorists” and do whatever they want to them.

      Hence Assad tortures captured opposition forces, and when called on it says “they’re terrorists, and even the U.S. tortures terrorists”.

      What an example and precedent we’ve set. Rolling back 60 years of human rights progress with one semantical swoop, and a dash of Dick Cheney.

      1. The Geneva Conventions make a distinction between conventional warfare (soldiers in uniform attacking soldiers), guerilla warfare (combatants in civilian garb attacking soldiers) and terrorists (combatants in civilian garb attacking civlians). 

        Terrorists are outside the Geneva Conventions’ protections because of how the conventions are worded. 

        1. While you certainly have a point, there are lots of people imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay who were fighting in uniform, for a state-sponsored army, when they were captured. Of course we conveniently declared their state invalid, thereby making everyone fighting for that country a “terrorist”, and therefore outside the protections of the Geneva Convention.

          Its almost like a Hitchhickers Guide to the Galaxy joke, if it weren’t so damn scary.

    3. Yes, but the problem is that most of them should be classified as rebels or freedom fighters, not the other way around. I also think that you might be overstating the positive connotation of “rebels”.

  5. It’s so nice to see my tax lira at work. At least we are indirectly making a contribution to maker culture.

  6. These guys are freaking badasses. I can’t imagine there’s many musicians making munitions on the Syrian regime side which speaks volumes about which side represents the will of the people.

Comments are closed.