Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, recognized as terrorist organization by the U.S., has been allegedly spotted parading a vast number of U.S.-made military vehicles in Syria, triggering questions about how they ended up in the militants’ hands. Closely aligned with Iran and Syria, Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Syrian government troops since the beginning of the conflict.
Arab media has published pictures of the massive amounts of Hezbollah forces in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on the show of force, as did various Hezbollah media outlets. Meanwhile, commentators on various social media sites are claiming that some of the material – including tracked vehicles – seen in the pictures are U.S. made and taken from the Lebanese military.
The Syrian rebels were having a field day over the pictures, claiming that this was just further confirmation that Hezbollah are the ones who are really in charge in Syria, while the anti-Hezbollah March 14 coalition came out against the pictures, with one of the coalition leaders tweeting that the pictures “shatter all hope to restore the dignity and the image of the state.”
The photos of Hezbollah’s military parade allegedly featuring U.S.-made armored vehicles in the Syrian city of Qusayr published by media close to the organization raised questions the U.S. State Department had to confront during a daily press briefing.
“Our embassy in Beirut is working with the Lebanese armed forces to investigate the images circulating on social media purporting to show Hezbollah displaying U.S. military equipment in Syria,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said. She added that there was “no information on them [the images],” but the US would be “gravely concerned if equipment ended up in the hands of Hezbollah.”
The U.S. equipment on the photos appear to be the M113 armored personnel carriers that have been in service since 1960 and “are extremely common in the region,” Trudeau noted. The State Department spokeswoman also noted that “the Lebanese military has publicly stated that the M113s depicted online in the Hezbollah military parade were never part of their equipment roster.”
The armored personnel carrier, known as the M113, is one of the United States’ most ubiquitous armored vehicles and has been in service since the 1960s. The tracked semi-rhombus-shaped vehicle comes in numerous variants and can be outfitted to carry troops and artillery; its chassis was even used as the basis for a nuclear-missile carrier. It has appeared in every major U.S. conflict since the Vietnam War and is used by U.S. police departments and dozens of others countries’ militaries around the world.
Hezbollah also showed of European made military grade all-terrain vehicles with Kornet anti-tank missiles attached to them, along with other light tanks. Moreover, Hezbollah is known to currently be in possession of 130,000 missiles.
The purpose of the show of force was to prove that the terror organization is able to incorporate its armored division with anti-tank missiles – an ability which usually only national militaries have. This is proof that Hezbollah is a “hybrid army,” meaning it is a guerrilla group which can blend into the civilian population, while at the same time has the ability to carry out armored division style attacks.
This is not the first time the U.S. weapons and pieces of military equipment allegedly end up in the wrong hands, with a number of reports saying that Al-Nusra and IS (Islamic State) had come into possession of American missiles and other types of weaponry intended for so-called moderate opposition groups in Iraq and Syria. Moderate opposition militants tend to defect with the U.S. weapons, join terrorist organizations and use it against the U.S. troops.
U.S. equipment falling into the hands of extremist groups and regional opponents has been a recurring theme in the Middle East and southwest Asia for the past 15 years as American wares have been distributed wholesale to those willing to fight for U.S. causes. Armored vehicles, weapons, night-vision devices and body armor have been diverted from places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, subsequently showing up on battlefields throughout the region.