News / Middle East

    West Still Debating Whether to Arm Syrian Rebels

    Armed Syrian rebels stand guard as refugees flee Syria at border crossing near Qaim, Iraq, July 25, 2012.
    Armed Syrian rebels stand guard as refugees flee Syria at border crossing near Qaim, Iraq, July 25, 2012.
    Syrian government warplanes, tanks and heavy artillery continue to pound opposition forces that are essentially fighting back with light weapons. The disparity in forces has prompted a debate whether the United States and other western countries should provide weapons to the insurgents.
     
    The Syrian army, estimated to have 200,000 to 250,000 troops, is by regional standards a highly capable military force.
     
    Deaths Across Syria, map dated Aug 16, 2012Deaths Across Syria, map dated Aug 16, 2012
    x
    Deaths Across Syria, map dated Aug 16, 2012
    Deaths Across Syria, map dated Aug 16, 2012
    For decades, first the Soviet Union and now Russia delivered weapons to the Syrian army. These included thousands of tanks, helicopters, jet fighters, heavy artillery, armored personnel carriers and ammunition.
     
    Syrian opposition armed with light weapons
     
    John Pike, head of Globalsecurity.com, an Internet research firm, says facing a well-equipped Syrian army are insurgents essentially armed with assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled anti-tank rockets.
     
    Syria's Armed Forces

    • Ground Forces
    200,000 - 250,000 ground forces
       4,950  main battle tanks
          590  reconnaissance vehicles
       2,450  armored infantry fighting vehicles
       1,500  armored personnel carriers
       3,440  artillery pieces

    • Air and Naval Forces
     30,000 air force personnel
       5,000 navy personnel
         300 fighter-ground attack planes
           48 intelligence/surveillance planes.
           22 heavy transport planes
           36 attack helicopters
         100 reconnaissance/transport helicopters
    “What they do not have is helicopters,” said Pike. “What they do not have is tanks. And that’s basically what the Syrian government is relying on to suppress this insurrection: this military imbalance that the rebels have light weapons and the government has heavy weapons.”

    Analysts say much of the weaponry used by the insurgents has either been captured from military depots, taken from soldiers of the Syrian army who have defected, or purchased on the black market. Reports also indicate that countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia are either providing funds to the rebels to purchase weapons or are directly supplying them with arms.
     
    Calls to arm or intervene
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter observes the area during clashes in Aleppo, August 16, 2012.
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter carries the body of a fellow fighter in Aleppo, August 16, 2012.
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter reads the Quran before clashes in Aleppo, August 16, 2012.
    • A man searches among houses that were destroyed during a recent Syrian Air Force air strike in Azaz, August 15, 2012.
    • Syrians evacuate a wounded man from under the rubble after an air strike destroyed at least ten houses in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, August 15, 2012.
    • Injured Syrian women arrive at a field hospital after an air strike hit their homes in the town of Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, August 15, 2012.
    • A Syrian man carries an injured child to a field hospital after an air strike hit homes in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, August 15, 2012.
    • Wounded Syrians arrive at a field hospital after an air strike hit their homes in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, August 15, 2012.
    • Syrians wounded in an air strike that hit their homes evacuate a field hospital after a second air strike in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, August 15, 2012.
    • Wounded Syrians evacuate a field hospital after a second air strike in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, August 15, 2012.
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter passes an AK-47 rifle to his fellow fighter in Aleppo, August 14, 2012.
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter reacts after hearing news that his commander had been killed by tank shell in Aleppo, August 14, 2012.
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter fires his sniper rifle from a house in Aleppo, August 14, 2012.
    • Free Syrian Army fighters sit behind a barricade on a street in Aleppo, August 13, 2012.
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter observes the area with a pair of binoculars in Aleppo, August 13, 2012.
    Several western nations, including the United States and Great Britain, have been providing the Syrian opposition with non-lethal assistance – such as communications equipment, medical supplies and water-purification kits. 
     
    But some experts and U.S. politicians are calling for more. One of them is Senator John McCain, who spoke on the Senate floor March 6.
     
    “Time is running out,” he said. “Assad’s forces are on the march. Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary.”
     
    Senator McCain and others say the Syrian opposition needs the weapons to continue the fight. And he even calls for western air strikes against Syrian military forces to bolster the rebels.
     
    Arguments against arming Syrian opposition
     
    But John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is wary about providing weapons and other assistance to the Syrian rebels.
     
    “Even those in Congress who advocate giving lethal or non-lethal assistance to the opposition are reluctant to identify precisely to which leaders we should give it,” Bolton said. “When people who want a broader American involvement can’t identify the right people to give it to – that really makes me nervous.”
     
    Bolton gives another reason not to arm the rebels.
     
    “There is a very real risk that as bad as the Assad regime has been, the terrorists and radicals inside the opposition could capture control of the opposition and in retaliation for decades of oppression by the Assad regime, conduct their own executions and mass killings against Alawites, Christians, Druze, Sunnis who supported the regime,” he said.
     
    Bolton does “not want to have American weapons or American-trained leaders involved in such a bloodbath.”
     
    Difficult to disarm militias
     
    Nadil Shehadi, with London’s Chatham House, says arming the rebels “will backfire, because all these groups that are being armed now, whether for a good cause or not, will have to be disarmed later – and that will be a very difficult process.”
     
    Shehadi favors a coordinated military action against Bashar al-Assad “because a direct military intervention has more legality and it will be easier to get rid of an occupying force than to dismantle militias later.”
     
    Fawaz Gerges, from the London School of Economics, says providing weapons to the Syrian opposition will play directly into the hands of President Assad.
     
    “The militarization of the uprising in Syria is a God-sent development for Assad, because the Assad regime has argued all along that he is facing armed groups, [that] he’s facing al-Qaida type extremists,” said Gerges. “And now Assad has mobilized his army and is receiving support from Iran. He has convinced a critical segment of his population that there is no political uprising – this is an armed conflict financed and driven by outside players, particularly the United States and its regional allies.”
     
    Gerges says Assad is hunkering down for the long haul. The Syrian President and his supporters, he says, believe he can still defeat the opposition, and that, barring an international military intervention, he could survive for a long time.
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter observes the area during clashes in Aleppo, August 16, 2012.
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter carries the body of a fellow fighter in Aleppo, August 16, 2012.
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter reads the Quran before clashes in Aleppo, August 16, 2012.
    • A man searches among houses that were destroyed during a recent Syrian Air Force air strike in Azaz, August 15, 2012.
    • Syrians evacuate a wounded man from under the rubble after an air strike destroyed at least ten houses in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, August 15, 2012.
    • Injured Syrian women arrive at a field hospital after an air strike hit their homes in the town of Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, August 15, 2012.
    • A Syrian man carries an injured child to a field hospital after an air strike hit homes in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, August 15, 2012.
    • Wounded Syrians arrive at a field hospital after an air strike hit their homes in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, August 15, 2012.
    • Syrians wounded in an air strike that hit their homes evacuate a field hospital after a second air strike in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, August 15, 2012.
    • Wounded Syrians evacuate a field hospital after a second air strike in Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, August 15, 2012.
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter passes an AK-47 rifle to his fellow fighter in Aleppo, August 14, 2012.
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter reacts after hearing news that his commander had been killed by tank shell in Aleppo, August 14, 2012.
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter fires his sniper rifle from a house in Aleppo, August 14, 2012.
    • Free Syrian Army fighters sit behind a barricade on a street in Aleppo, August 13, 2012.
    • A Free Syrian Army fighter observes the area with a pair of binoculars in Aleppo, August 13, 2012.

    Andre de Nesnera

    Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

    You May Like

    Beijing Warns Critics Over South China Sea Dispute

    Official warns critics that the more they challenge China's position regarding disputed territories in one of world’s busiest waterways, the more it will push back

    Will New Russian Force Be 'Putin’s Personal Army'?

    With broad powers to control riots, suppress dissent, National Guard may be aimed at sending a message to West as much as keeping peace at home

    Foreign Media in Pyongyang Barred From North Korean Party Congress

    Hundreds of international journalists invited to cover historic party meeting barred from entering actual event

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Noreen from: UK
    August 16, 2012 6:31 PM
    absolutely... lets debate... but lets agree to start the debate in 2074... hey, Obama, these are the despicable Arabs and Muslimes that planted IED that killed and maimed our soldiers in Iraq (well, its them and the Iranians)... these are the scum of the filth...

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020i
    X
    Ramon Taylor
    May 05, 2016 10:05 PM
    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020

    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Child Labor in Afghanistan Remains a Problem

    With war still raging in Afghanistan, the country also faces the problem of child labor as families put their school-age children to work to help make ends meet. But, thanks to VOA's Afghan Service, two families whose children had been working in a brick-making factory - to earn their livings and pay off family debts - now have a new lease on life. Zabihullah Ghazi reports.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora