News / Middle East

Report: US Helping Syrian Rebels Arm, Fight

Shaam News Network image purports to show Syrian helicopter firing on village near Daraa, June 16, 2012.
Shaam News Network image purports to show Syrian helicopter firing on village near Daraa, June 16, 2012.
VOA News
Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad may be getting some added help from the United States.

The New York Times reports CIA operatives are working along the Turkish-Syrian border, helping to funnel arms -- including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank weapons -- to opposition groups seen as most friendly to the U.S. The report cites American officials and Arab intelligence officers, who say the arms themselves are coming from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

White House spokesman Jay Carney refused to comment directly on the report Thursday but told reporters Washington does not provide "lethal aid" to the Syrian opposition.

"What I can tell you is that we provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people," he said. "We provide non-lethal assistance to the opposition and we continue to work with the opposition, in concert with our international partners, to help them organize themselves, to help them develop greater capacities all as part of the process of preparing for a political transition that the Syrian people absolutely desire and deserve and that will take place."

Senior U.S. officials have already said operatives have been helping the Syrian rebels with logistics and other planning, and The Wall Street Journal has reported U.S. intelligence officials have been debating whether to give the rebels access to satellite imagery and other information that could help give them a tactical advantage over President Assad's forces.

Experts say whether the allegations are true -- and the reason the story was leaked -- remains unclear. But Aaron David Miller, a Middle East scholar at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center, said it would be surprising if the U.S. was not trying to find ways to make the Syrian rebels more effective.

"These types of weapons, particularly anti-tank weapons -- and I am sure there are other sorts of devices, along the lines of the manufacture and production of IEDs -- does represent, if it's done in a volume, an effort to give the insurgency a real capacity to endure," he said. "And I think, over time, that's the plan, because there are no short-term solutions here."

Miller said such a strategy comes with risks and that the longer the conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become to "reassemble Syria" as a unified political entity.

"Can the provision of these weapons, even if it's done in a very organized, focused way to the right units, really make them more competitive?" he said, explaining that there is no guarantee such a strategy would work. "Perhaps over time, but you're dealing with a regime that clearly has superior firepower."

Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at The Washington Institute, said the influx of arms to the rebels is having an impact.

"The improving capabilities they have is tilting the battlefield," he said, adding that, for now, that may be enough.

"Whether or not they ever get to the point where they can defeat the Syrian army in sort of a conventional or main battle, I think that's a ways off, if ever," he said. "But they can cause a lot of attrition and they can cause a lot of stress on Syrian army units and they can cause some to break, maybe."

Russia Helicopter Shipments
In Moscow Thursday, the foreign ministry confirmed it is trying to send military helicopters to Syria, saying the helicopters already belong to Syria and had been sent to Russia for repairs.

The Mi-25 helicopters, said spokesman Alexander Lukashevich, posed no threat to civilians.

"Our main position on military-technical cooperation with Syria is already well known and has often been stated publicly," he said. "We maintain our military-technical links with Syria, while refusing to ship there any equipment which could be used against peaceful demonstrators.''

White, of The Washington Institute, disagreed and said evidence from the ground shows how the helicopters are used.

"They're employing combat helicopters quite a bit now. We see them in regular use all over the country," he said. "And bringing in additional [combat helicopters] to the ones that are already there will make their force more effective."

Russia's critics also point to video coming out of Syria on a daily basis, showing the Syrian military using its equipment to shell cities like Homs and Qusair.

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by: Anonymous
June 23, 2012 6:18 PM
It would be in Russias best interest to help the people of Syria, so that when Assad is gone, and the never government is formed, Russia isn't kicked out of Sryia and they lose their naval base. What is Putin thinking? Is he stupid? Winning the hearts and minds of the Syrian people should be on his BEST interests. What Putin is doing is earning a slap to his own face. Talk about dumb decision making!!!

by: Richard Cheeseman from: Aotearoa
June 21, 2012 7:30 PM
If this report is true this is a blatant new crime by the US regime which amounts to state sponsorship of terrorism. The empire's CIA state terror network has previous form for collaborating with the Saudi monarchy to promote violent Islamic extremist groups, with disastrous results.
In Response

by: Anonymous
June 23, 2012 6:22 PM
They are helping men, women and children defend themselves from genocide. Didn't you see Assads tanks indiscriminently shelling neighbourhoods? Of course it is a great idea to arm the people of Syria to defend themselves against a Tyrant leader and malicious military. Even several thousand military personel defected because of this regime. There is no crime helping the Syrian people at all get your crimes right.

by: Dulcie Mareve from: Port Moresby
June 21, 2012 6:51 PM
USA is an idle superpower looking for wars to utilize its unused arsenal. Syria is just an excuse for US. its wants to de-stabilize the region so it can exert its dorminance. see how many countries lose their Gov't due to US secret efforts to overthrow foreign Gov'ts that oppose US global dorminance
In Response

by: Anonymous
June 23, 2012 6:27 PM
Look at Assads track record and brutal dictatorship of his people, he is slaughtering his own people. USA & Western Allies all have the same thoughts, nobody should be killing their own people. We as westerners believe in human rights and morals, this is why we would get involved by helping the rebels. I think your way of thinking is off the wall.

by: Mac from: USA
June 21, 2012 6:42 PM
I hope this "leaked" item is false news. Most Americans think that we have no business in Syria. This is not our fight, and we already have enough problems without sending the CIA into another country to cause more bloodshed.

by: Jester from: North America
June 21, 2012 6:37 PM
Seems as if Russia and the US will be profiting nicely by arming both sides. Of course that money will be pocketed by the military industrial complex and politicians. Greed 1 Common man 0; same as it ever was.
In Response

by: Anonymous
June 23, 2012 6:29 PM
I think the Western/US interests aren't as interested in selling arms as it is helping the slaughter of innocent civillians from a brutal dictator that kills his own civillians. Human rights are something we as Westerners believe in, nobody should be put through what the Syrians are being put through right now.

by: Ammar Khalid
June 21, 2012 6:32 PM
Well the article is quite misleading. It should have said that the arms that are coming from Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are being stopped by CIA agents at Turkish border, who are vetting the groups that can receive them and those who cannot. It doesn't matter if the latter are the ones who are really putting up a greater fight to the government. USA has been hypocritical during this whole process....
In Response

by: Anonymous
June 23, 2012 6:31 PM
If you ask me I think the Arab League should be helping the people with the backing of the Nato or Western countries. These people believed in the Arab League, where is it now? The Arab League does not like Assad one bit, but the Arab League likes the Syrian Civllians. The League should be disabling Assad from killing innocent civillians.

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