Turkish missiles used in Syria included items meant for ambulances - report

A German manufacturer of brakes exported them to Turkey with guarantees they would be “used on blood analyzing machines fitted to ambulances.” 

Turkish soldiers patrol along a wall on the border line between Turkey and Syria, in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 29, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/KEMAL ASLAN)
Turkish soldiers patrol along a wall on the border line between Turkey and Syria, in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 29, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/KEMAL ASLAN)

A new investigation has focused on Turkey’s use of missiles as part of its operations in Syria.

These missiles are fired from Turkish drones. Conflict Armament Research, a European Union-funded organization that helps trace munitions and other items in conflict, has done important work over the years documenting weapons in other countries of the region.

The new report concludes that “missile components documented by CAR’s investigators in northeast Syria show how commercial products manufactured in the EU have been diverted for use in missile production.” What this means is that items such as electromagnetic brakes have been sent to Turkey and used in missiles, when they were intended for civilian use.

“According to information provided to CAR by the commercial exporter, electromagnetic brakes documented at 10 of the 17 missile strike sites in northeast Syria had ostensibly been sold for use in ambulances in Türkiye [sic]. The end-user repeatedly stated, in verbal and written form between 2018 and 2020, [that] the brakes were intended for medical use. However, as CAR’s findings demonstrate, the brakes were subsequently incorporated into missiles and used for military purposes in northeast Syria.”

This report is important because it is one of the few examples where an investigation has been carried out about Turkey’s use of drone strikes in Syria. Ankara launched several invasions of Syria beginning in 2016. These reached a peak in 2018 when Turkey invaded Afrin and again in the fall of 2019 when it also invaded an area called Serekaniya.

 Fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) stand atop a building at the eastern outskirts of Raqqa city, Syria June 7, 2017. (credit: RODI SAID / REUTERS) Fighters from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) stand atop a building at the eastern outskirts of Raqqa city, Syria June 7, 2017. (credit: RODI SAID / REUTERS)

Ankara targeted Kurdish forces and the invasions forced hundreds of thousands of Kurds and other minorities to flee their homes. After the October 2019 invasion, Turkey used drones to strike at people in eastern Syria. Most of these strikes are carried out against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the main group fighting ISIS. Ankara claims it is fighting “terrorists.”

What did the report focus on?

The CAR report is focused primarily on the issue of munitions and components of the munitions. The report is based on pieces recovered from missiles apparently fired from drones. The report notes that, “in some instances, missiles have impacted up to 50 km. into northeast Syria. In addition to the UN Commission of Inquiry, other non-governmental sources have identified several strikes against civilian vehicles and populated areas that resulted in reported civilian casualties.”

TURKEY ARMS its drones, mostly the Bayraktar series, with the smart micro munition (MAM in Turkish) missile system. This missile has reportedly been exported to a number of countries, including Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Morocco, Niger, Pakistan, Qatar and others. The CAR research looked at pieces of missiles found across eastern Syria, including areas near Kobane, as well as a dozen strikes around Qamishli.

The report includes interesting details about the various types of MAM missiles. These have ranges of between 8 and 30 km. and have different sizes. The missile has unique fins and fixed wings, and its manufacturer uses a “two-backed, two-screw configuration to attach the four rear fins.”

On some of the wreckage, a plate showing the lot number and production date of the munition have been found. The report notes that there is no evidence the companies involved in exports of products that may have ended up on the missiles were involved in wrongdoing.

The issue of exports of Western items that have ended up on things like Turkish missiles or Iranian drones is sensitive. In recent months there has been growing evidence that Iran used dozens of products made in the West on its drones, now being exported to Russia. Many Western countries are now focused on how civilian items end up on weapons.

The CAR report found gyroscopes on the missile remains used as part of their inertial sensor suite, the report says. These were made by a company based in the US; circuit boards from a Chinese company were also found.

The most disturbing finding of the report is that a German manufacturer of brakes had exported them with guarantees from Turkey that they would be “used on blood analyzing machines fitted to ambulances.” CAR notified the company about the presence of its products in missiles. The company did everything it could to make sure the brakes were used for civilian purposes. The Turkish company importing the brakes even signed an end-user agreement saying these items would not be used in military activity or for human rights violations.

While this discovery is important, it likely won’t affect the use of the missiles on drones by Ankara, which will likely continue to be able to manufacture the missiles. However, the discovery shows how items were misdirected for use in military products and sheds light on Turkey’s drone war in eastern Syria. Not enough of a spotlight has been put on how Turkey uses drones in Syria and how it also harms civilians. A small tip of the iceberg of Ankara’s role in eastern Syria has now received a spotlight due to this report.