Seized Government Weapons Bolster Syrian Rebel Hopes

Thursday, 22 Aug 2013 05:21 PM

By Joel Himelfarb

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Syrian rebels have received an unexpected windfall in the form of large weapons caches seized in fighting in the past three weeks, including stocks of heavy arms that could help offset recent battlefield gains by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, U.S. and Middle East officials say.

The weaponry includes hundreds of advanced anti-tank missiles captured in fighting near Damascus and a sizable haul of armored vehicles, machine guns, and rockets taken from Menagh air base near Aleppo following its capture by rebels Aug. 6.

During an early-August raid on an army depot in a Damascus suburb, rebel militias acquired hundreds of wire-guided anti-tank missiles, analysts said. Videos posted on YouTube showed gleeful rebels hauling away boxes of missiles as well as rocket-propelled grenades. The highly accurate missiles are believed capable of destroying any tank in the Syrian military’s inventory.

The air base was overrun by a force of Western-backed rebels and radical Islamists who split the seized materiel, U.S. and Middle East officials told The Washington Post.

“The seizing of Menagh is looking very important because the rebels gained a lot of weapons there,” said a senior Middle Eastern intelligence official who spoke on the condition that his name and nationality be withheld, citing the sensitivity of his government’s intelligence collection efforts in the region. “The Syrians were using the air base for weapons storage, and it had a lot of good-quality stuff.”

Analysts say the capturing of Menagh provided a tactical and psychological boost for the rebels, who entered the facility after a costly 10-month siege and carted away truckloads of weaponry. Rebel commanders are reportedly redeploying newly re-armed units against other strategic targets around Aleppo, the country’s largest city.

The arsenals seized in the past month were unusual in size and quality and could help chip away the government’s significant military advantage in some heavily contested parts of the country, U.S. and Mideast officials said.






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