Syria Exclusive: New Arms for Insurgents --- The Case of the Croatian Multiple Rocket Launcher br>
Syria Analysis: International Aid Fuels Key Insurgent Victories in South br>
Egypt (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Prosecutor Orders Arrest of TV Host br>
Friday's Syria Live Coverage: Hesitating on Weapons to Insurgents?
1803 GMT: What's So Important About a Croatian Rocket Launcher? James Miller provides a snap analysis:
Today we posted evidence that a 12-tube 8.5-13km range Croatian rocket launcher has made it to the battlefields of Syria.
Why does this matter?
There are three different levels of significance. The first is the military effectiveness of the weapon. The second level concerns what the weapon's presence says about the state of the international effort to arm the rebels. The third is a question about the rule of unintended consequences. We'll be treating these separately in a longer analysis, especially the last two, but this deserves some treatment now.
First, militarily this weapon is fairly significant. The rebels are constantly being hit by long range artillery and multiple launch rockets, so this helps level that playing field. Of course, even if all of the RAK-12s were given to the Syrian rebels, this would not match the regime's firepower. However, in our updates to our separate feature we've posted video that already shows this launcher targeting the Damascus International Airport. These weapons are extremely effective at attacking isolated regime bases over short, medium, and long range distances. This weapon could provide much needed help in cracking Assad's most formidable defenses, though it's still hard to see how a few of these weapons will make a significant difference. Also, the rebels have some similar weapons that they have captured from the regime, so the presence of a few rocket launchers is not going to dramatically change the situation.
The next issue, the international efforts to arm the rebels. The presence of these weapons is more evidence that the arming of the rebels is continuing. It also suggests that whoever is sending these weapons is confident that they will be used appropriately. However, so far we only see one or two of these RAK-12s in Syria. The efforts to arm the rebels with Croatian weapons have been coordinated by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and the United States - at least. Is it possible that a single country is providing these rocket launchers without the approval or knowledge of the others? Or are all of these countries on board? Is this the start of a movement to provide heavier weapons to the rebels? We just don't know, but we'll be watching this carefully.
The third issue is perhaps a moral one. This week, suspected rebel mortars hit Damascus University, killing 12 students. It was possibly an accident, as the university is close to other targets and various key buildings belonging to Assad's leadership, but it was a demonstration of a growing fear of collateral damage in new locations. Earlier in March, a unit directly linked to the Croatian weapons executed a group of prisoners and detained 21 UN Peacekeepers in the Golan Heights. Will these weapons be used to advance a constructive agenda, or just merely throw fuel on the fire?
Perhaps the answer to the concerns above could all be addressed by a transparent, decisive, and well executed effort by the international community. Right now, this entire effort is cloak-and-dagger, as no one is told whom is arming whom with what and where and why. It's an ad hoc, off-the-books mission, and it's unclear if there is any accountability. Furthermore, it's not known whether the limited arming of the rebels will provide the desired results - the ending of the conflict through the inevitable toppling of the Assad regime - or whether this will just intensify the violence for a longer period of time.
One or two RAK-12s will not defeat Assad. A few dozen may help. If arming the rebels is the course to achieving a faster end to the fighting by giving the rebels fire superiority, then this is not what is happening.
But it may be the start of a new and bolder strategy. Time will tell.
1520 GMT: Iraq, Iran, and Syria. The Iraqi Government has said it will step up searches of Iranian flights travelling through its airspace to Syria, days after US Secretary of State John Kerry publicly criticised Baghdad for turning a blind eye to them.
However, as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s spokesman spoke of newly-tightened restrictions on Iranian flights, the head of the civil aviation authority acknowledged that no planes had been searched since October.
Asked if the move was in response to Kerry’s comments last Sunday during a surprise visit to Baghdad, al-Maliki’s spokesman Ali Mussawi replied: “No one has provided us with evidence --- just information.”
Kerry told reporters while in Baghdad that he “made very clear to the Prime Minister that the overflights from Iran are in fact helping to sustain [Syrian] President al-Assad and his regime.” He said he told Maliki that American politicians were “watching what Iraq is doing” and noted that anything that helped Al-Assad was “problematic”.
Iraq announced two inspections of aircraft, both in October, but the New York Times reported in December that Iran appears to have been tipped off by Iraqi officials as to when inspections would be conducted, helping Tehran avoid detection.
Nasser Bandar, the head of Iraq’s civil aviation authority, told AFP that no planes had been searched since October because “we have not seen any suspicious flights since then”.
“We will inspect the flights we have suspicions about,” he added.
1155 GMT: Aleppo. Insurgents claiming the liberation of neighbourhoods such as Ashrafiyeh in Aleppo:
1025 GMT: Insurgents and Captured Supplies. Claimed footage of the Islamist insurgency Jabhat al-Nusra distributing provisions seized from the regime's 38th Brigade in Daraa Province:
The website of the Violence Documentation Center, which maintains posts a total of casualties in the two-year conflict, has been down since Friday morning.
Video footage showed opposition fighters claiming regime checkpoints and declaring their control of the area. The insurgents are now expected to move on Daraa city.
In his analysis, James Miller explains the wider importance of the victory:
Dael's fall is significant. It may be the defining example of how the international effort to give military assistance to the rebels, led by Saudi Arabia and the US, is rapidly changing the face of the war.
Control of Daraa Province gives the rebels access to Syria's border with Jordan, from where outside forces are providing military asssistance....
Dael is north-northeast of Daraa City, the provincial capital, in the geographic middle of the fight for Daraa Province and controlling the main highway between Daraa and Damascus. It is also on the northwest edge of a string of insurgent-controlled towns and checkpoints.
Its capture cuts off several already-isolated Assad bases off from reinforcements, bringing the insurgents closer to control of all traffic in and out of eastern Daraa Province. If the rebels hold Dael, they can use it as a base to launch campaigns northwards to complete this objective.
Southern districts of Daraa city have already begun to fall to opposition fighters. If Dael is captured and held, insurgents can push into the northern districts of the provincial capital as well.