A fascinating study made by Australia-based Armament Research Services (ARES), looks at the range of camouflage patterns used in the Syrian conflict. The non-state actors, unlike conventional military forces, supplement their everyday T-shirts and cargo pants with a mix-and-match of whatever tactical equipment they can lay their hands on and often take style into account too. The fighters obtain their camouflage clothing from a variety of sources: government forces or other non-state actors, domestic stores, bought abroad or supplied by sympathisers.
The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and non-state armed groups widely use locally-produced variants of two patterns originating in the United States, the m1948 Engineer Research and Development Laboratory (ERDL) woodland pattern, often known as the ‘leaf pattern’, and the M81 Woodland pattern.
Outlined in red, the fighter appears to be wearing a camouflage uniform in a variant of the British desert Disruptive Pattern Material (DPM) pattern developed in the early 1960s as a woodland camouflage which started being issued to British troops towards the end of that decade. “The pattern was then developed into desert variants for British troops in advance of the first Gulf War, however visually similar desert DPM pattern variants had already been exported from the UK to Iraq, and licensed to companies producing uniforms for Gulf nations including Kuwait, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. Yemen and Iran have also used desert DPM type patterns and uniforms in recent decades. These regional neighbours are the most likely origin for the uniform seen here in Syria, however various iterations of the pattern also remain widely available from online retailers,” reports ARES.
The fighter outlined in green is also wearing a desert pattern which appears to be the desert variant of the Spanish M09 Ejercito Pixelado design, sometimes referred to as ‘M09 Arido Pixelado’. This pattern was issued to Spanish forces from 2009. “Because of its recent production and limited distribution this is an unusual pattern to see in Syria,” according to ARES. It adds that “European supporters of various non-state actors are known to have purchased and supplied numerous types of camouflage clothing and tactical equipment to fighters in Syria. Additionally, some groups have even issued specific instructions to so-called ‘logistics cells’, seeking European and American made equipment and camouflage. In March 2016, for example, Spanish officials seized a shipment of 200,000 military uniforms destined for Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra forces. Shipments such as these are one way this pattern may have entered Syria.”
The fighter outlined in purple is wearing a uniform in the MultiCam pattern, or one of its many variants, readily obtained through a variety of routes as it is very easy to purchase both online and in stores. MultiCam, once uncommon to see worn by non-state actors, is increasingly being observed in conflict zones.
Outlined in yellow, the fourth fighter is wearing a very long field jacket in the US M81 Woodland pattern. Developed in the United States in the 1980s, this pattern “is quite probably the most common uniform pattern in service today,” reports ARES, widely used by both armed forces, notably those of Syria’s neighbours, and non-state actors alike (including hunters and outdoorsmen), with wide geographical and ideological distribution.
The final fighter, outlined in blue, sports a uniform in a 3-colour desert camouflage pattern worn by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan and supplied to the Iraqi government. ARES reckons “it is likely that this fighter obtained this uniform locally as clothing in this pattern has been provided to a number of regional neighbours, and is commonly available in sporting goods stores in the Middle East.”