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.
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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid