Are these the first images of UK Special Forces vehicles near Hajin?
Updated: Nov 28, 2018
Images and a short video obtained from near Hajin appear to show UK Special Forces vehicles that are part of the Coalition's effort to defeat ISIS in the battle for the Hajin pocket along the Euphrates. In the last two months fighting has increased and ISIS has launched a series of counter-attacks. The Coalition has also increased its airstrikes. Sources on the ground say that the Coalition, including special forces and artillery, have been increasingly active.
This is the last area held by ISIS in Syria in Iraq. High level ISIS members and hardened fighters, including foreign fighters, are thought to be in Hajin and nearby towns. ISIS has used the cover of sand storms and fog to attack the Syrian Democratic Forces, causing numerous casualties. The SDF includes units of the Deir Ezzor Military Council and the SDF has now reinforced its units veteran fighters and its own special forces units.
It is in this context that photos appear to show UK Special Forces vehicles. This is not the first time images of British Special Forces have been revealed in Syria. In August 2016 photos were published by the BBC. Those photos showed "The Thalab (Fox) vehicles," which are for long distance reconnaissance. They were apparently photographed in Tanf. A UK service member was also reported killed in May in Syria.
The vehicle in the photo obtained by MECRA near Hajin appears to be a Thales Bushmaster is a highly mobile, The Australian vehicle has been used by the UK. After it was acquired in 2008 a report noted "it is believed that the Bushmasters are earmarked for use by the SAS operating in Iraq." The vehicle can hold up to 9 soldiers and has four hatches. It has gun mounts for two machine guns, and grenade launchers and can have a remote firing system.
MECRA found two other photos online of the Bushmaster allegedly in Syria and Iraq during the Coalition's war on ISIS. A photo in February 2017 allegedly showed a Bushmaster with UKSF alongside the SDF in Syria. Another photo was placed on Pinterest and a third was taken near Raqqa in July 2017; both were posted on Twitter. The Bushmaster also appeared near Mosul in November 2016 and there was a discussion about which type of vehicle it was. The vehicles in Mosul and Raqqa appear similar to the ones that appeared near Hajin in November 2018.
Our comparison with other images of Bushmaster configurations showed a similar vehicle with some minor modifications. A person familiar with the UKSF mission confirmed the images were likely UKSF.
We also obtained a very short video of the vehicles. Our source did not photograph any of the service members of personnel and was careful not to photograph terrain details that might endanger or give away information about the operation. In addition the exact date the photos were taken was during November 2018 but is not known.
The images provide evidence of the importance of this battle to the Coalition and show the presence of different members of the Coalition near the front. We also received photos of US forces near Hajin. Several sources confirmed the MECRA the increased tempo of Coalition operations against ISIS, especially after the ISIS counterattacks that have persisted. One counter-attack took place over the weekend of November 23rd.