A Free Syrian Army member fires an RPG-22 on 12 January in Busr al Harir in Daraa Province
See also Wednesday's Syria Live Coverage: The Fight in Daraa Province
In mid-January, prominent blogger Eliot Higgins, several journalists, and I noticed an influx in new weaponry into Syria, specifically in Daraa Province in the south. Higgins collected the videos in a blog post and came to a remarkable conclusion --- the weapons, which included several kinds of RPGs, recoilless rifles, and grenade launchers, were all designed,manufactured, and/or heavily used in the former Yugoslavia, and none of them are part of the Syrian military arsenal.
Someone --- a current player? a new one? --- was giving a big boost in weapons to the insurgents.
Since then, the Free Syrian Army has succeeded with a series of surprise attacks, capturing several towns, border crossings, and roads. They then repelled tank convoys, airstrikes, infantry invasions, and even paratroopers.
A Free Syrian Army fighter fires an M60 Recoilless Rifle in Busr al Harir on 17 January
In the last week, opposition fighters may have overrun nearly one-third of Daraa city. Regime convoys have rushed towards the city, apparently to turn back the surprise advance.
Once again, the insurgents have used weapons that were not made in Syria. In this video, a fighter holds a M79 Osa RPG:
In the following video, insurgents, firing from a bedroom, use a RBG-6 40mm grenade launcher to strike at an Assad military installation . The weapon was designed in South Africa, but this appears to be a weapon licenced by a company in Croatia:
The weapons are being brought in from outside Syria and put into the hands of Free Syrian Army units, rather than the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra or other factions distrusted by the international coalition supporting the opposition.
Eliot Higgins has now found evidence that the new weapons have made their way into Damascus, Hama Province, and Aleppo Province. This video shows an M79 rocket launcher in the Sheikh Saeed district, recently taken by insurgents, in the south of Aleppo city.
Higgins explains the significance of the military figure in the clip:
The man shown in the video is Colonel Abdul-Jabbar Mohammed Aqidi, reportedly the former commander of the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo Province. He is now part of the recently- formed Supreme Military Council, acting as one of six representatives for the Northern Front.
Maybe more tellingly, he is one of two members of the armament committee for the Northern Front, with this video being one of a series from his recent visit to opposition forces in Aleppo.
On Monday, the insurgents launched an offensive against a military barracks in the north of Aleppo city. Though we did not see any weapons that were definitively obtained from outside Syria, the fighters brought a significant amount of firepower down on the barracks, with reports that they have captured the building.
The new offensives, and other insurgents attacks around the city, suggest that this is part of a new, coordinated strategy to hit Assad strongholds and weaken his hold on Syria's largest city.
Then there are the attacks on Damascus International Airport and the military bases that surround it. While other assaults have been beaten back, those of the past week have been relatively successful. Video shows an RPG-22 at the scene, in the hands of the Free Syrian Army:
While foreign weapons have been seen in Syria, we have not encountered them on this scale. All this suggests a new, organised, and well-funded effort is under way to ensure that "moderate" fighters are capturing territory and weakening the Assad regime.
It is too early to tell whether there are enough weapons to make a long-term impact. None of them be used as an effective counter to Assad's primary threat, his fighter jets. However, if this is an experiment to see a surge in armament makes a difference, the answer is clear.