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Syria Feature: The Surge in Foreign Weapons for the Insurgents (Higgins and Chivers/Schmitt)

Colonel Abdul-Jabber Mohammed Aqidi, a prominent insurgent commander in Aleppo, holds up an anti-tank M79 rocket launcher

The New York Times features two articles today picking up on part of the work by Eliot Higgins ("Brown Moses") and EA's James Miller that has identified the surge in advanced foreign weapons reaching the insurgents, especially on the southern front of fighting.

One is by Higgins himself, as he details the types of weapons seen in videos from the conflict and links them to specific attacks by the insurgents, initially in Daraa and Damascus Provinces but now also in the northwest and even in Aleppo. He concludes:

There’s a number of interesting things about these weapons. First, it appears these weapons are only going to moderate groups with links to the Free Syrian Army, and not to Jihadist and Salafist groups such as Al Nusra Front, which the United States has designated as a terrorist organization. Second, the presence of the newly arrived Yugoslav weapons across the entire length of the country to the north suggests the possibility of two supply lines providing these weapons – one from Jordan and another perhaps from Turkey. Finally, these weapons offer a degree of control to those supplying them. The M79 Osa and M60 recoil-less gun both fire projectiles not common in the region, and the RPG-22 is a one-shot disposable weapon. This means that if the supplier cuts off ammunition supply the weapons become less menacing — an ideal circumstance for anyone who hopes to make limit their spread beyond Syria’s current war.

The Times also posts a piece by C.J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt, "Saudis Step Up Help for Rebels in Syria With Croatian Arms". Beyond the headline, the articles offers some significant details, such as:

Officials familiar with the transfers said the arms were part of an undeclared surplus in Croatia remaining from the 1990s Balkan wars....An official in Washington said the possibility of the transfers from the Balkans was broached last summer, when a senior Croatian official visited Washington and suggested to American officials that Croatia had many weapons available should anyone be interested in moving them to Syria’s rebels.

However --- perhaps out of caution, perhaps because of the dependence on unnamed Western sources, perhaps out of the distraction of the "Saudi-only" headline --- the article does not go as far as Higgins and Miller in connecting the dots of the arms shipments, coming in across both the Turkish and Jordanian borders. In particular, Chivers and Schmitt avoid any reference cutting across Washington's official line that it has not been involved in arms transfers to the insurgency.

Extracts from the two articles:

Weapons From the Former Yugoslavia Spread Through Syria’s War
Eliot Higgins

....At the start of January, a number of opposition groups operating in the Dara’a region joined together and attacked Syrian government forces in the town of Busr al Harir, nearly 16 miles northwest of the city of Dara’a. These combined forces, including the well-established Omari Brigade and other smaller groups, were all armed with the weapons. Opposition groups in this area, it seemed, appeared to have received a sizable quantity of weapons from sources outside Syria. In January, more than 60 videos were posted from groups fighting in this location showing the four different weapons, as well as videos showing multiple destroyed armored vehicles and heavy fighting.

As I looked further, I found that this was not the only place where these new weapons had appeared. In the second half of January, videos began appearing showing the Ababil Horan Brigade, which had been operating in and around Damascus for several months, using the M60 recoil-less gun to attack Syrian forces inside Aqraba, in the southeast suburbs of Damascus. This was followed in February with videos of fighting in the southern Damascus suburb of Al Qadam showing the Ababil Horan Brigade with the RBG-6 grenade launcher and M79 Osa rocket launcher.

On Feb. 8, another group fighting in Damascus, the Abdullah bin Masood Brigade, posted this video showing them fighting in the Yarmouk Camp area of Damascus, in which they state they had joined the Ababil Horan Brigade, and seems to demonstrate the growing power and influence these new weapons give to the groups that control them. Other groups in Damascus have now been seen with these weapons, including the Daraya Martyrs Brigade using a RBG-6 grenade launcher.

All across the region between Dara’a and Damascus, there were an increasing number of videos showing these weapons’ being used by a number of armed opposition groups....

Saudis Step Up Help for Rebels in Syria With Croatian Arms
C.J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt

Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and quietly funneled them to antigovernment fighters in Syria in a drive to break the bloody stalemate that has allowed President Nashar al-Assad to cling to power, according to American and Western officials familiar with the purchases.

....While Persian Gulf Arab nations have been sending military equipment and other assistance to the rebels for more than a year, the difference in the recent shipments has been partly of scale. Officials said multiple planeloads of weapons have left Croatia since December, when many Yugoslav weapons, previously unseen in the Syrian civil war, began to appear in videos posted by rebels on YouTube....

Officials familiar with the transfers said the arms were part of an undeclared surplus in Croatia remaining from the 1990s Balkan wars. One Western official said the shipments included “thousands of rifles and hundreds of machine guns” and an unknown quantity of ammunition.

Croatia’s Foreign Ministry and arms-export agency denied that such shipments had occurred. Saudi officials have declined requests for interviews about the shipments for two weeks. Jordanian officials also declined to comment.

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