Bellingcat

Sunday, 2 June 2013

A Note Of Caution On The West Providing Arms To The Opposition

This week there's been a lot of talk about the lifting of the EU arms embargo on Syria and the arming of the Syrian opposition.  One key point has been ensuring the weapons only go to "good" rebels, broadly considered to by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), while ensuring the weapons stay out of the hands of "bad" rebels, Jabhat al-Nusra for example.

Despite the talk of arming the opposition as being a new thing, there's actually been one significant operation to arm the opposition in recent months.  At the start of 2013 Syrian opposition fighters in the Daraa governorate in the south of Syria began to receive arms smuggled in from Jordan.  These arms had been sold from government stockpiles by the Croatian government to Saudi Arabia, working hand-in-hand with the US, who then had them flown to Jordan and moved across the border.  The weapons included:

M79 Osa Rocket Launcher - Manufactured in the former-Yugoslavia.
M60 Recoilless Gun - Lightweight mobile artillery from the former-Yugoslavia.
RPG-22 Rocket Launcher - A Soviet/Russian one-shot disposable rocket launcher.
RBG-6 Grenade Launcher - A Croatian copy of a South African 40mm grenade launcher.

The weapons were later joined by the RAK-12 multiple rocket launcher system.

It was notable that when the weapons began to appear in Youtube videos they all appeared to be in the hands of groups that were aligned with the Free Syrian Army, strongly suggesting the weapons were being purposely supplied to the Free Syrian Army only.

After just over two months from the weapons arriving in the south of the country they had began to appear in Damascus, Idlib, Hama, Deir Ez Zor, and elsewhere, and photographs and videos showed the weapons had spread beyond the Free Syrian Army.  First Ahrar al-Sham, a loose collection of various Islamist and Salafist groups, posted this video showing them using two of the weapons provided by Saudi Arabia
M79 OSA

RBG-6
More recently there's been images showing Jabhat al-Nusra using these weapons, via their official statements
M60 (Source)
M60 (Source)
It's unclear how these weapons reached the hands of these groups, but considering how closely members of the Free Syrian Army and groups like Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra have worked together it seems unsurprising that these weapons might be sold or traded between the groups.

This would seem to add weight to the argument that arming the Free Syrian Army may result in the "bad" rebels getting their hands on the weapons, but in the example of the Croatian weapons there's one other factor to consider.  In the case of the M60 recoilless gun and M79 Osa rocket launcher they both use ammunition that's unique to the weapon, and not commonly available on the black-market, or used widely outside of the former-Yugoslavia.  This means that the only reliable source of ammunition will be the governments providing it, so if they choose to cut off the ammunition supply then the weapons become useless.  This allows a certain amount of control, even if the weapons are reaching the hands of "bad" rebels, and this factor might influence the type of weapon sent to opposition groups in Syria in the future.

Related Articles
New Anti-Tank Weapons From The Former-Czechoslovakia Appear In Syria
Evidence Of Jabhat al-Nusra With Croatian Weapons
Croatian Weapons Arrive In Homs
More Videos Of Croatian Weapons With Non-FSA Islamists, Salafists, and Jihadi
Video Shows Non-FSA Jihadists Ahrar al-Sham Using Croatian Weapons
More Background On Croatian Weapons In Syria

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at brownmoses@gmail.com


10 comments:

  1. What I can't understand is why doesn't US/UK/France state forcefully and clearly that FSA chain of command is too lax and until it's fixed there will be no weapons. This would put a pressure on FSA to fight against profiteering in their ranks.

    Also diplomatic efforts could use similar upright means. It's been longtime clear that SNC (the coalition) is not representative. If so then state it clearly and say we can't support them until it is.

    None of this means that Assad is representative either.

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  2. Are there any reports on US involvement in this arms deal?

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    1. Yes, in the NYT
      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/25/world/middleeast/arms-airlift-to-syrian-rebels-expands-with-cia-aid.html?pagewanted=all

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    2. Interesting, thank you!

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    3. That would be important if the weapons came from the west with western money but they didn't, they came from saudi wahabbi money that's why jihadists have them, their funders bought them for the FSA & the jihadists

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  3. How well proven is it, that JAN-with-weapons videos really are JAN and not false flag dress-up shabeha (in an attempt to blacken the arms supply, etc) ?

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    Replies
    1. The images of JaN-with-weapons were from official Jabhat al-Nusra statements, so it's solid.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. As long as they are waiting for the real stuff (guess the M1 MBT shipments will take a while^^), they can stick to ...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vespa_150_TAP

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  6. unbelievable facts behind the beautiful world world losing its peace

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