Malhama Tactical has been covered through numerous defense and small arms websites recently but this is the first time the print magazine Foreign Policy has ran an article on its unique guns for hire status. The group is led by an Uzbek fighter, who appears to have had some previous military training at an enlisted level.
The group’s leader is a 24-year-old from Uzbekistan who goes by the name Abu Rofiq (an Arabic pseudonym that means father of Rofiq). Little is known about him other than that he cycles through personal social media accounts rapidly, using fake names and false information to throw off surveillance efforts. In virtually every video and photo posted online, he wears a scarf or balaclava to cover his face from the nose down, leaving visible only his narrow dark eyes and long, somewhat tangled, pitch-black hair. He speaks fluent Russian, but with a slight Uzbek accent.
Since launching in May 2016, Malhama has grown to do brisk business in Syria, having been contracted to fight, and provide training and other battlefield consulting, alongside groups like the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as the Nusra Front) and the Turkistan Islamic Party, a Uighur extremist group from China’s restive Xinjiang province. And despite recent rebel setbacks in Syria, including the loss of Aleppo, demand for Malhama Tactical’s services in the country is as strong as ever, Abu Rofiq told Foreign Policy in an interview conducted over the messaging app Telegram.
But he is also beginning to think about expanding elsewhere. His group is willing to take work, Abu Rofiq says, wherever Sunni Muslims are oppressed. He cites China and Myanmar as places that would benefit from jihad. He also suggests that Malhama Tactical might go back to its roots, returning to fight in the North Caucasus against the Russian government.
The group’s videos do show a certain degree of tactical proficiency, but lack the finesse that comes with being an NCO, such as this video covering casualty aid under fire. The casualty is assessed and treated, but there is very little respect to security being provided.