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

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters More

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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs