Yesterday a new video was released by ISIS terrorists showing a bunch of destroyed main battle tanks (MBTs) and armored personnel carriers (APCs) near the Syrian city of Al-Bab. This video however has proven something, that I understimated a certain weapon. Not anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), not improvised explosive devices (IEDs). A much older weapon: propaganda. The same weapon that turned the Tiger heavy tank - a rather mediocre design of it's time - to a supposed super tank, that still is being worshipped by some individuals today. However the propaganda worked, invoking a Tiger-phobia on the side of the allies.
Now, what exaclty has happened? A new video showing the exact same area that the first few videos were showing. The destroyed or damaged tanks are probably all identical to the tanks already shown in earlier videos, that have been covered by numerous news articles and blogs. Still some people start writing articles in a sort of kneejerk reaction, claiming that these are newly defeated tanks and that the Turkish Army is just poorly trained or the Leopard 2 is a poorly designed tank, incapable of competing on the same level as the tanks of other countries (even though this is not tank-vs-tank warfare...). This again leads to people to come and reply or spread the articles, which are pushing for their own agenda. "The T-90 is so much better, only one was penetrated!", "All people who think the Leopard 2 is a good are Nazi-tank fanboys" and "The Abrams/Challenger 2/T-84 is an inpenetratable super tank". People love to ignore the fact that the Turkish Leopard 2A4 is fitted with out-dated armor, possibly still the first generation of armor technology introduced with the original Leopard 2 in 1979. The fact that the Turkish Army was purged after the failed coup attempt - in which most tank units were equipped with Leopard 2A4 tanks - is intentionally ignored.
So what exactly has happened to the Leopard 2 in the past month in Syria? Well, apparently not much in that area. ISIS was only interested in spreading images from already destroyed tanks - this might mean that there are no newer encounters that were video-taped.
|Leopard 2 tank wrecks in Syria|
The first Leopard 2A4 tanks of the Turkish Army were destroyed or at least disabled in combat already in December. Above are screenshots from one of the very first combat encounters, below are captures from two different propaganda videos - all showing the same two destroyed tanks. Well that's propaganda, pretending (by using different camera positions and filming on different days) to have destroyed six tanks, while in reality only two were destroyed (or rather one was destroyed, while one was apparently rendered immobile and abandoned).
|An ATGM penetrated the roof of this tank|
The image above shows a tank was hit by an ATGM at the roof. There are at least three different scenes from different videos showing this tank. It actually might be four, but the image quality of one is so bad, that it couldn't be clarified without doubt. This shows again how the terrorists' propaganda tries to inflate kill numbers in an attempt to demoralize the enemy. They supposedly even filmed the tank at different times of the day, so that the mood of light changed.
|Blowing up captured tanks|
The terrorists are known to have captured up to three tanks, of which one had a track issue. So what to do with a tank that cannot be utilized by the own forces? Blow it up in a propaganda video, pretending that it was an enemy tank destroyed in combat.
|Victims of a large explosion: airstrike or blown up after being abandoned|
Supposedly at least one captured tank was destroyed by an airstrike from a Turkish F-16. A photo showing a Leopard 2A4 with turret popped of the hull was shared on Twitter in December 2016. While it is not exactly confirmed that this tank is one of the two destroyed tanks above, all vehicles in above photo show damaga typical for airstirkes or large explosive charges being placed inside the vehicle. This can be seen by locking at the front of the Otokar APV (engine compartment blown off) and the excessive damage caused to the frontal Leopard 2.
One can only speculate about the exact fate of this tanks. Were they abandoned and then destroyed by an airstrike? Were they captured by ISIS and then destroyed by Turkish forces? Did the terrorist blow them up for a propaganda video?
|Overview with text by militaysta|
That's why speculating about how awful or how good some military unit perform just based on photos of wrecks doesn't make sense. Who knows how many hits the tank took before ending there? Or maybe the tanks didn't even take any damage but broke down before combat. Who would know based on a wreck of a tank?
Snafu Solomon reblogged an interesting article from DieselPunkIsDad on survivability bias. While this term doesn't exactly apply to the topic, it clearly shows the same problem: people are judging the peformance of a combat vehicle, a military unit or even a whole nation based on a biased subset of encounters. The Battle of Crete was a horrible failure from the perspective of the Nazi-German Army, which abandoned the tactics of airborne invasion via paratroopers after it. From the perspective of the Allies, who were unaware of the German losses, the airborne invasion was suddenly a highly effective tool of warfare - that happens when only a subset of data is considered. How many videos out there are showing an Iraqi or a Saudi Abrams tank getting hit by an ATGM, while sitting in the open without (mechanized/motorized) infantry support? Everytime such a video appears, someone comments on how bad said vehicle/persons are doing and how they are essentially getting slaughtered. What is ignored in this context is that the terrorists will only show your successful attacks - that's how propaganda works. But how many times do their attacks fail by missing the target, failing to penetrate the armor or being discovered and killed?
|Older informations on Turkish losses via Reddit|
So what is the conclusion of this post? Well, probably that one should keep calm and take some time to think about what is shown by a source and what the motivation for showing this is. Based on the videos and earlier reports of Turkish losses, there seem to be no recently destroyed tanks at this specific area near Al-Bab. This could have several different reasons, but speculations without sources won't lead to much.
According to older Turkish sources, a total of ten Leopard 2A4 tanks, one M60T Sabra and four other vehicles were disabled or destroyed in the area around Al-Bab. One Leopard 2 had an issue with the tracks and the situation of one tank is unknown (supposedly this tank is among the ones captured by ISIS). Two tanks were damaged by IEDs, one of them heavily. A further tank was damaged by a mortar attack, while the other five Leopard 2A4 tanks were damaged by ATGMs - back then not a single tank was listed as destroyed by ATGMs. Earlier sources from about a week before the losses were leaked/published via Twitter claim that fifteen M60T Sabra tanks, three M60 tanks and three Leopard 2A4 were hit by ATGMs. One of the M60 tanks and three Sabras were total losses. Supposedly ten soldiers died in Turkish tanks at this time. The fact that no new tank wrecks appeared in the area from Al-Bab doesn't mean that Turkey hasn't lost more tanks since then - but it also doesn't directly confirm any losses at other places.
Turkish sources claim that between the 8th and 18th January 192 air raids and firing 2,196 rounds of artillery, tank and mortar ammunition resulted in the death of 1,362 enemies, a further 168 were wounded. As always these claims haver to be taken with a grain of salt, as there is no proof for any of these claims and kill figures of airstrikes and artillery are known to be exaggerated quite often. Still if true, one shouldn't pretend that the Turkish Army is so bad and the "Arabs are horrible at war" meme applies (not to mention that technically Turks aren't Arabs). Yes, the first Leopard 2 tanks were employed in a horrible way and thus destroyed. But maybe at least some common NATO training standards are met and result in some better performance after the initial shock.