US arms Syrian rebels with first heavy weapons – media reports
The story was originally reported by the Israeli website DEBKAfile, an independent Internet resource that provides intelligence and security news services. DEBKAfile’s military sources said that in the last several days two militant groups, the Free Syrian Army and Syrian Revolutionary Front, received heavy anti-tank, optically-tracked, wire-guided rockets - BGM-71 TOW missiles. This type of weaponry can pierce 50mm thick tank armor and fortifications at a range of 4 kilometers.
Both militias are considered to be moderate by the US. The Obama administration remains committed to assisting rebels in their fight against President Bashar Al-Assad that has lasted for three years. However, the United Stated always underlines that it does not support radical factions in Syria.
The anti-tank weapons are shipped through Turkey and Saudi Arabia. To be specific, they are delivered through two routes: the town of Diyarbakir and Saudi King Faisal Air Base at Tabuk.
The United States denies supplying the rebels with heavy weaponry in the conflict-torn Syria. However, several videos with BGM-71 TOW missiles, allegedly in the hands of the militants, have been uploaded to Youtube.
If the reports are true, not only does that new development tip the balance of power on the Syrian battlefield, it also marks a drastic change in the US policy. Previously, the US refused to provide heavy weapons.
According to the Washington Post, the CIA began to ship weapons to Syrian rebels in September 2013. At the time shipments were limited to light weapons and other munitions. Moreover, in late January, 2014, Reuters reported that the weaponry the militants in Syria were receiving included a variety of small arms, as well as some more powerful weapons, such as anti-tank rockets. However, the agency stressed that the US was not sending shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, known as MANPADs, which could shoot down military or civilian aircraft.
At the time this was cited as the reason Syrian regime pulled out of the peace talks in Geneva. "The US is not interested in the success of this process," said Faisal al-Mokdad, Syria's deputy foreign minister, as quoted by the Telegraph. "This is another manifestation by the United States of America of its support of terrorist groups in Syria."
Mid February it was reported that Free Syrian Army successfully persuaded the Obama administration that the militants needed advanced weaponry in order to put more military pressure on the Assad regime.
Keep in mind, that according to polls, the majority of Americans are against aiding Syrian rebels. In 2013 the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press conducted a survey, according to which staggering 70% opposed the US sending arms and military supplies to antigovernment groups in Syria. Some experts in the US also voiced their concern saying that the weapons are likely to end up in the wrong hands and will only escalate the slaughter in Syria.