Geo-location Middle East News

In search of US forces near Manbij, Syria

On March, 8 AP published a video showing a convoy of US Stryker armoured vehicles and Humvees near Manbij in northern Syria. We tried to find where the video was shot.

On March 8, the Associated Press published a video on YouTube showing a convoy of US Stryker armoured vehicles and Humvees. It said the convoy was “in the Syrian village of Al-Asliyeh, near the northwest city of Manbij.”

We found the original, higher quality footage. It was shot by Arab 24 on March 7. Arab 24 describes itself as “an independent newsgathering agency providing accurate and unbiased news content from the Arab world to Western and Middle Eastern broadcasters.”

The agency does not say where it is based, but the phone number on its website is in Jordan, and it lists locations across the Middle East where it has a presence.

Some stills from the video:

The vehicles in the footage are of the same type as those we geo-located east of Manbij. They were filmed crossing the Euphrates on March 4.

Another strikingly similar convoy was filmed and photographed in Yalanli village near Manbij on March 5.

The Syria-based Smart News agency also published video of a convoy on March 5:

March 6 footage

Video of a convoy of Humvees and Strykers was shared on Twitter on March 6.

Qalaat Al Mudiq‏ geo-located this footage to the southern end of Alasalyeh, a village around 13km as the crow flies from Manbij, and around 7.5km from Yalanli where a similar US military convoy was filmed and photographed on March 5.

Finding العسلية from the March 7 video

Transliteration from Arabic is notoriously difficult. AP transliterated the name of the town as “Al-Asliyeh”. There are no towns with this spelling in the Manbij area.

On the Arab 24 video page we found the Arabic spelling:

“Alasalyeh” in Arabic, from the Arab 24 post of the March 7, 2017 video.

In a separate video released by Arab 24 in 2016, we found this roadside sign:

A sign from a 2016 video from Arab 24 about IDPs in the Manbij area.

We’re fairly certain that this is the town referred to in the video of the US military convoy.

We believe that town is this one:

[googlemaps width=600 height=450]

Its entry on Wikimapia:

Kurdish village Asaliyah (Arabic: عسلية ‘Asaliyat). Locally known as Ballî (Yekgirtú Kurdish: Balí; Kurmanji Kurdish: Balî; Arabic: البلي al-Balī). Alternative spelling: Asaliyeh, Asaleyah / Balli

Wikimapia doesn’t use the apparently official “Alasalyeh” spelling, but the transliterations are very close.

Looking at imagery

Looking at satellite imagery of the town, we couldn’t find any location that matches the video.

A US military convoy comprising Stryker armoured vehicles and Humvees filmed near Manbij, Syria on March 7, 2017. Pic: Arab 24

We specifically looked at this image because other locations in the video gave few clear geo-location clues.

The image shows Strykers turning left onto a paved road from a dirt road. There are buildings on the left hand side of the paved road, and a row of trees on the right. There are also trees by the building.

We note that the 2016 video by Arab 24 which lists the location as العسلية (Alasalyeh) shows a roadsign that clearly says that Alasalyeh is 6km (3.7 miles) away. We think that Arab 24 use the name of the town as a general rather than specific location, and therefore the video of the convoy could be some distance from the town.

We’ve had a quick look at nearby towns but haven’t found anywhere that looks just right. Yet.

UPDATE On March 9, Ruptly published video shot at the same location as the March 7 Arab 24 video. We believe it was shot on the same day. There may be more geo-location cues in there.

Vehicle identifiers

The only clearly visible Stryker vehicle marking in the Arab 24 video appears to be MVOA47, and it has a large R4 sign on the rear. Other Strykers are labeled R1, R2 and R3.

In the first set of photographs, a Stryker marked MVOA5S is seen with a large sign reading R1 on its front. Another vehicle is R3.

In the second set of photographs Strykers marked R1, R2, R3 and R4 can be seen. R2 has a large Red Cross symbol on the side and an identification number on the rear may read NT01QP. R4 is also marked MVOA47.

We can therefore say with a high degree of certainty that the Strykers pictured in Yalanli on March 5 are the same group filmed by Arab 24 on March 7.

US units involved

There are no US personnel in the March 7 video. The people seen are local forces, and at least one is wearing a Manbij Military Council patch.

Ex-US Army Ranger Jack Murphy in a post on his site SOFREP on March 6 said the images from March 5 confirmed that the unit deployed was from 75th Ranger Regiment. He added: “By looking at the call sign tag on the back of the Stryker, it is evident that this is 3rd Ranger Battalion out of Fort Benning, Georgia, which has been confirmed via other sources.”

On March 9, the spokesperson for the US-led international coalition against Islamic State, US Air Force Colonel John Dorrian, said US Army Rangers had been deployed to Syria.

CNN’s Barbara Starr wrote that unnamed US officials had confirmed around 100 US Army Rangers were deployed in the Manbij area.

We can be fairly confident, therefore, that the troops using the Strykers are Army Rangers. A Stryker is crewed by two and can carry up to nine passengers, which means that a convoy of four could carry 44 fighters.

We don’t know which units are in the Humvees in the convoys, but we know that up to 500 US special operations forces are in Syria in an ‘advise and assist’ capacity.

The Humvees in the video are a relatively unusual variant used by Navy SEALs, but we cannot say for sure that SEALs are the only US SOF unit that uses this type.

What next?

Do you know where this video was shot? Can you help us find the location? Can you give us any more information that might be useful? Tell us on Twitter.


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