In a segment showcasing the militants’ sniper detachment, one U.S.-made rifle is featured prominently. The type of weapon, a modified 7.62mm M14 called an Enhanced Battle Rifle, has appeared with the Islamic State before, along with a Syrian rebel group that once had backing from the Pentagon and Iraqi Special Operation forces.
Militants on battlefields from Afghanistan to Syria have long-displayed Western-made arms in their propaganda. The weapons are usually given to commanders and elite fighters to distinguish them from regular foot soldiers. The most prevalent American weapon found on foreign battlefields is arguably the gas-operated M-16 rifle, a mainstay in U.S. armories since the Vietnam War and sold and lost by the United States and its proxy forces ever since. The black rifle, with its hallmark triangular front sight, has been a staple with the Islamic State since it overran large swaths of Iraq in 2014, routing Iraqi security forces and taking large stores of U.S.-supplied weapons and ammunition.
What makes the appearance of the M14 somewhat unique is its age and relative rarity in the U.S. military compared to the widely issued M-16. Though the M14 appears in the Islamic State video with a scope and a modern furnishing, allowing the shooter to attach accessories, the core, or action, of the weapon derives from the World War II-era M1 Garand rifle.
The M14 was designed to replace the M1 Garand in the years following the Korean War. Unlike the M-16 and its carbine variants, the M14 was only issued for less than a decade. Weighing more than 10 pounds loaded and roughly three-feet long, the M14 was introduced when rifle designs were rapidly evolving. In the late 1950s the Soviets were busy adopting and fielding the Kalashnikov series of rifles.
Kalashnikovs fire a smaller round than the M14’s 7.62x51mm, are around 10 inches shorter and significantly lighter. The Americans, believing that their troops needed a weapon that packed more of a punch and could shoot farther, quickly found in the jungles of Vietnam that the M14s size and weight were no match for the portability and lethality of a weapon like the Vietnamese’s AKs.
In the mid-1960s the M-16 entered the U.S. arsenal and the M14 was quickly sidelined, becoming a boutique weapon with few units until the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, after which the weapon regained prominence as a marksman’s rifle. To help retain their accuracy in combat environs the M14s were eventually fitted with special chassis — much like the one seen in the Islamic State’s video. In the past several years, however, the specialized M14s in use by the U.S. military have been replaced by heavier caliber M-16-style rifles.
With the rise of the Islamic State in 2014 and a renewed flow of American weapons into the region, M14 variants have repeatedly appeared with armed groups in Iraq and Syria. In 2015, Armament Research Services documented a modified M14, much like the one in the ISIS Raqqa video, in use by U.S.-supplied Syrian rebels called Division 30.
Based off markings on the weapon, Division 30’s M14 was one of 6,200 M14 Enhanced Battle Rifles built by Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois and supplied to the U.S. Army, according to the research group. It is unclear if the rifle in the Islamic State video is from the same cache, as no markings are distinguishable and the scene is poorly lit.