The Free Syrian Army has reportedly acquired portable surface-to-air missiles to use against government jets and helicopters. The news comes amid stirrings within the FSA that Al Qaeda fighters in their ranks are “a threat to their revolution.”
The Free Syrian Army has added nearly two-dozen surface-to-air (SAM) launchers to their arsenal, NBC reported on Tuesday. “The rebel sources tell that for the first time in this conflict the Free Syrian Army has been armed with nearly two dozen shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that came in from Turkey. The rebels hope that this is just the first batch, and say their effects will be felt soon,” the TV network’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel.
Engel said the rebels hope the portable missile launchers will spell an end to the as-yet-unchallenged air superiority of pro-Assad troops in the battle for Aleppo.
Pictures of launchers shown in the report resemble the Soviet-era Strela portable SAM launcher. The image, if true, could suggest a link between the Syrian rebels and Libya, whose arsenals were ransacked last year after the fall of the regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
Some 10,000-15,000 portable SAM launchers were alleged to have disappeared from Libyan military storehouses.
Several countries, including Persian Gulf monarchies Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been recently calling to supply the FSA with surface-to-air missile launchers.
Last month, US officials warned against arming the Syrian rebels with SAMs, since the weapons could be used to take down civilian passenger jets.
During the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan, the US supplied the Mujahedeen with then-state-of-the-art Stinger anti-air missiles. Afghans used them to down 18 Mi-24 Soviet assault helicopters. But when America invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Afghan Mujahedeen deployed American Stinger missiles against the US Air Force.
Syrian rebel fighter Abu Khuder says that his group is battling the Assad regime in close cooperation with the FSA, and consults with their military council on a daily basis, according to the Guardian.
Khuder, a battalion commander for Solidarity Front, Al-Qaeda's main arm in Syria, revealed in the interview that "we have clear instructions from our [al-Qaida] leadership that if the FSA need our help we should give it. We help them with IEDs and car bombs. Our main talent is in the bombing operations."
The commander said he joined Al-Qaeda because he was “frustrated” with the lack of discipline within the ranks of FSA fighters. Al Jazeera has also reported that jihadists have established military camps within Syria.
The Guardian claims that scores of ‘freedom fighters’ are flocking to these camps from nearby Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and remote locales like Bangladesh, Chechnya, Belgium and the UK. Radical Islamists have already started to employ symbols like the black flag to distinguish their forces from the rest of the FSA.
Radical Islamists have been participating in most military conflicts in the Middle East for the last three decades, and it seems, they have now shifted their efforts to Syria. But not all Syrian opposition fighters are happy with it.
Al-Qaeda militants "are stealing the revolution from us and they are working for the day that comes after,” one FSA fighter said.