News / Middle East

Syrian Rebels Step Up Efforts to Get Anti-Aircraft Missiles

U.S. Army soldiers with a Stinger missile launcher.U.S. Army soldiers with a Stinger missile launcher.
x
U.S. Army soldiers with a Stinger missile launcher.
U.S. Army soldiers with a Stinger missile launcher.
TEXT SIZE - +
ALEPPO, Syria - Syrian rebels are redoubling their efforts to acquire portable anti-aircraft missiles following government airstrikes on cities and towns in the north of the country.
 
In the latest such strike, a Syrian Air Force jet bombed the rebel-held town of Azaz near the Turkish border, killing at least 50 people and wounding more than 100.

Rebel commanders and activists say their buyers are now scouring the arms black markets in the region to get the shoulder-fired missiles that can counter the government airstrikes.

According to opposition activist “Tony” al-Taieb, who works with the rebel military council in Aleppo, representatives with cash from rich Syrian exiles are negotiating to buy the portable surface-to-air missiles, often called SAMS or MANPADS, for “Man-Portable-Air-Defense-System.”

“Don’t believe everything you hear about the Qataris and Saudis supplying us with heavier weaponry,” al-Taieb says. “We are getting hardly anything from them.”

Al-Taieb said acquiring as many MANPADS missile systems as possible was now the highest priority for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the umbrella organization for many of the rebel brigades that have been trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the past 18 months.

He said the government airstrikes on Aleppo, Azaz, Tel Rifat and villages such as Akhtarin and other settlements closer to the Turkish border were apparently designed to menace the rebel enclave in the region and disrupt rebel supply routes from Turkey.

Military analysts say shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles can turn the tide of battle in an insurgency war like the one in Syria.

The example most often cited is the Afghan Mujahedeen insurgency against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan 25 years ago. Many military analysts say U.S.-supplied Stinger portable missiles downed dozens of Moscow’s feared Hind attack helicopters and helped the Afghan guerrillas defeat the Soviets.
 
According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, many of the casualties in the town of Azaz were women and children buried under piles of rubble. Opposition activists in Azaz said the death toll would likely rise to 25.
Rebel commanders say portable surface-to-air missiles could help them defend towns such as Azaz and even give them the advantage in Aleppo, where forces loyal to President Assad managed to uproot rebels from parts of the city after eight days of bloody fighting.

“We need a no-fly zone and, failing that, anti-aircraft missiles,” says Zaher Sherkat, a 32-year-old commander of the rebel Abu Bakr brigade. The unit is now down to about 120 fighters after losing 20 men in the Aleppo fighting.

“We have had 20 ‘martyrs’ from my brigade and about 30 wounded,” he says.   

Sherkat says he established the brigade after Assad’s forces killed half a dozen children in his hometown of Al Bab.

Despite press reports that rebels already have a small supply of MANPADS missiles, rebel commanders insist they don’t.  And there have been no verified media reports of rebels firing such missiles.

Last week, rebels in Deir el-Zour province claimed they had shot down a Syrian jet, and activists released a video they said showed the government Soviet-made MiG warplane catching fire after apparently being hit by ground fire.

The jet exploded in flames and rebels claimed to have captured the pilot. Rebels said they shot down the plane using a captured 14.5 mm anti-aircraft gun, the largest weapon in their armory.

“Machine guns were used to shoot at the plane,” says Aref Hammoud, an FSA spokesman in Turkey. “It was in a low range, which made it possible to hit.”

The Syrian government conceded it had lost a warplane, but said it crashed because of “technical difficulties.”
 
The U.S. and other western governments sympathetic to the anti-Assad rebellion have so far declined to supply the rebels with portable anti-aircraft missiles. One reason cited is that such missiles, capable of shooting down a commercial aircraft, could fall into the hands of terrorists or foreign Jihadists now reported infiltrating into Syria.

At a recent meeting with reporters in Washington, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro said the U.S. government hadn’t seen any evidence of MANPADS missiles getting into Syria from Libya, but acknowledged such a possibility was an area of concern.

U.S. officials estimate that the late Moammar Gaddafi’s Libya may have had as many as 20,000 MANPADS missile systems and that several thousand of them turned up missing during the civil war there last year.

Al-Taieb, the Aleppo opposition activist, would not talk about the possibility that Syrian rebels were buying some of the Libyan missiles.

“In the coming days we will have a consignment of MANPADS, Insha'Allah,” says al-Taieb. Asked whether if rebels managed to secure MANPADS, would they have trouble moving them into Turkey and then across the border, he responded:

“The Turkish government turns a blind eye to some things but not others.”

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid