News / Middle East

Covert Smuggling Trail Arms Syrian Rebels

Covert Smuggling Trail Arms Syrian Rebelsi
|| 0:00:00
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 11, 2012 12:08 AM
Some Western and Arab Gulf powers say they are increasing humanitarian and support aid to the Syrian opposition. At the Turkey-Syria border, the main conduit for foreign aid to rebel fighters, there are signs the aid trail also may include covert arms smuggling. Henry Ridgwell has more for VOA.
Henry Ridgwell
ANTAKYA, Turkey — Some Western and Arab Gulf powers say they are increasing humanitarian and support aid to the Syrian opposition. At the Turkey-Syria border, the main conduit for foreign aid to rebel fighters, there are signs the aid trail also may include covert arms smuggling.

The Turkish city of Antakya is now a hub for Syrian rebels and their supporters.  Just 20 kilometers from the border, analysts say it's here that most of the deals are being forged to aid the Free Syria Army rebels.

But few people here will openly admit that foreign countries are arming the opposition.

Ahmad al-Kanatre Abu Hamza, commander of the Omar al-Mukhtar brigade of the FSA, told VOA last month that most of his fighters' weapons are taken from Syrian forces.  
'
"Almost all our weapons are confiscated from the defeated regime army. We get no help from other countries," he said.  "All our arms are light weapons and they are old."

Opposition supporters have posted videos on social media sites allegedly showing big caches of weapons - mainly Kalashnikov rifles - and ammunition.  Their origin is unknown.

Foreign officials, including those in the U.S. and Britain, publicly say assistance to the Syrian opposition is limited to humanitarian and educational programs.

In unguarded moments, however, rebel fighters admit to receiving foreign arms.

Jonathan Eyal, an analyst at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said details are slowly emerging about international weapons' trails to the rebels.

"Very few countries admit to having a direct role although the veil of silence is slowly being lifted," he said. "The channels are Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the lead, with the Turkish government and the American government once-removed."

The covert nature of the trade - and the presence of Syrian government troops close to the border - limits the flow of weapons to rifles, pistols, and possibly a few rocket-propelled grenades, says former CIA intelligence analyst Bob Ayers.

"You wouldn't start from scratch.  And the intelligence organizations themselves whether they be American, British, Israeli, whatever, they would not be providing weapons to the FSA," Ayers said. "They'd go through a middleman, they'd find someone who has been trading across the border, who has got relationships on either side of the border, and funnel the weapons, the supplies, the munitions, the communications devices, whatever, through the middleman."

Ayers says a big problem is that foreign powers don't know exactly who they're giving the weapons to.

"We don't really have a unified opposition to [Syrian President] Assad," he said. "And there's no way that you can deal with them as if they are a unified entity.  They're fragmented, they are small groups, there's no centralized control although we'd like to see it and we behave like there is. There isn't."

The FSA's foreign supporters are attempting to tip the scales of the conflict towards the rebels in Syria while avoiding being caught red-handed, says analyst Eyal.

"It's a very difficult job to achieve especially since the involvement has to be once-removed," he said. "Let us not forget we do not have a U.N. Security Council mandate to do more than that, nor is any Western government proposing to become directly involved."  

Eyal says current support for the FSA is having minimal impact on Syria's civil war - and the outcome will ultimately be decided by the loyalty of the Syrian military to President Bashar al-Assad.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid