Armed With Ingenuity


Matthieu Aikins profiles the Syrian rebels’ arms makers:

More than in any of the other Arab nations riven by war in recent years—more than in Egypt, Libya, or Iraq—the rebels here have taken a DIY approach to arming themselves. This has been born out of a combination of necessity (other rebellions have been better supplied) and uncommon opportunity, as rebels have been able to hold significant territory where workshops can be set up and kept safe from regime attacks. Though regional countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have supplied arms to the rebels—and the US decided in June to begin its own limited program—weapons have been scarce enough that the rebels continue to manufacture their own. The whole region around Aleppo, which had been the center of Syria’s heavy industry, quickly became particularly fertile ground; as the rebels captured machine shops, steel mills, and power plants, they began adapting them to the task of war.

Some of the rebels’ creations verge on the outlandish. When I ask about one odd-looking, 15-foot-long wooden trebuchet, which its proud creator is using to hurl 4-pound fragmentation bombs, he tells me he got the idea from the videogame Age of Empires. Another Aleppo inventor gained fame with an armored car called Sham II (an improvement on an earlier Sham). Two crew members sit inside the car, an old diesel chassis with steel panels welded around the outside, and look at TV screens. While one drives, the other uses a PlayStation controller to aim and fire a machine gun mounted on the roof.

Hannah Lucinda Smith also toured the rebel workshops:

By taking apart weapons they’ve captured from the regime’s checkpoints, the rebels’ manufacturing team has worked out how to reverse-engineer them, meaning Assad’s troops are getting carbon copies of their weapons fired back at them.

(Photo: A rebel fighter holds an improvised mortar shell, one of many stacked at a factory in the city of Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital, on July 7, 2013. Syria’s 27-month war between rebel forces and pro-government troops has killed more than 100,000 people, a monitoring group group estimates. By JM Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)