Russia’s military showed off what it claims is a captured ISIS “tank factory,” taking international media — including a crew from CBC News — deep into Syria’s desert to the town of Okeirbat.
The community, in Syria’s Hama province, used to be home to 10,000 people. It is now deserted, with most of its buildings demolished by the aerial bombardment that preceded its re-capture by Syrian government forces on Sept. 2.
“We are standing at the site of an ISIS tank factory,” said Gen. Alexander Lapin, the head of Russian forces in Syria, during a briefing with reporters.
“All the conditions are set to complete this stage of the annihilation of ISIS on the eastern and western regional fronts of Syria,” said Lapin, emphasizing how important he thinks the find is.
The warehouse structure visited by reporters contained between six and 12 tanks, most of them badly damaged.
The tanks, Lapin said, were either stolen or captured from the Syrian government by ISIS forces and appeared to be old Russian or Soviet-made armoured vehicles.
They showed signs of heavy improvisation and modification, including extra armour and sandbags packed around the outside. There was also a separate area of the facility to repair tank tracks.
Several of the vehicles had their turrets removed.
The so-called “suicide tanks” could be packed with explosives and detonated by the driver when close to their intended target.
The blast radius would be between two and three hundred metres, enough to cause considerable damage, said Lapin.
Its unclear how often “suicide tanks” were used in battle. However, a different group of foreign media visiting the recently liberated city of Deir ez Zor claimed they were told such tanks had been used by ISIS as part of the campaign for that city.
Lapin said Syrian forces also discovered hundreds of metres of underground tunnels in Okeirbat, connecting strategically sensitive areas, but he said they were too dangerous to visit because most were still heavily mined.
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