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CIA aids huge arms smuggling to Syria – report

Published time: March 25, 2013 13:59
Edited time: March 26, 2013 11:02
Reuters / Larry Downing

Reuters / Larry Downing

The CIA reportedly has a hand in clandestine supply of arms to Syrian rebels by Gulf States. At least 3,500 tons of have been delivered - some ending up on the black market, with the Turkish government an active player, a media report says.

The flow of arms continues with the help of US agents as Washington criticizes Iran and Russia for delivering weapons to the Syrian regime, the New York Times says. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iraq on Sunday to close its airspace to Iranian flights just as the latest arms delivery from Qatar for Syrian rebels was landing in Turkey, according to the daily’s report.

The newspaper cites air traffic data, US and foreign officials and rebel commanders in its investigation.

The airlift reportedly began in early 2012 with a Qatari Emir Air Force C-130 transport aircraft flight. Saudi Arabia and Jordan have joined in in November, when it became a major operation. More than 160 military flights have landed in Turkey over the time. Esenboga Airport near Ankara was the prime destination, but others were also involved, the newspaper claims.

“A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3,500 tons of military equipment,” Hugh Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told the newspaper. He added that it appears as a “well-planned and coordinated clandestine military logistics operation.”

Indeed, CIA agents have a direct input on the deliveries, albeit mostly consultative, NYT says. The spy agency reportedly helps with procurement of weapons in Croatia and vets Syrian rebel groups, which would receive the weapons.

A Syrian rebel sniper takes aim at pro-government forces near the Abu Baker brigade in Albab, 30 kilometres from the northeastern Syrian city of Aleppo.(AFP Photo / Edouard Elias)

The involvement was supposedly motivated by the fact that the Arab states would supply arms to the Syrian militants anyway. The hopes CIA its can steer away the arms from Islamists’ hands and prevent weapons which can potentially be used by terrorist against civilian targets from being delivered, a former US official told the newspaper.

The operation was a limited success apparently, NYT says, citing two Islamist commanders.

“There are fake Free Syrian Army brigades claiming to be revolutionaries, and when they get the weapons they sell them in trade,” Hassan Aboud of Soquor al-Sham told the newspaper.

The former official described the program as “a cataract of weaponry.” He said: “People hear the amounts flowing in, and it is huge, but they burn through a million rounds of ammo in two weeks.”

Instrumental to setting up the operation was David H. Petraeus, the CIA director until November, the official said. He had prodded various countries to work together on it.

The scale of the operation increased considerably in November, after the Turkish government agreed to it, the report says. The tipping point may also have been the presidential election in the United States.

Ankara reportedly has oversight over much of the program, down to affixing transponders to trucks ferrying the arms through Turkish territory and across the border. Some in Turkey say Ankara is de facto at war with Damascus because of its involvement in the conflict.

“The use of Turkish airspace at such a critical time, with the conflict in Syria across our borders, and by foreign planes from countries that are known to be central to the conflict, defines Turkey as a party in the conflict,” said Attilla Kart, a member of the Turkish Parliament from the CHP opposition party, who confirmed details about several Saudi shipments. “The government has the responsibility to respond to these claims.”

A masked Syrian Turkmen rebel takes posision in the Hanano district of the northern city of Aleppo.(AFP Photo / Jm Lopez)

Still, rebel commanders complain that they do not receive enough weapons and do not get heavier kinds of weapons like anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.

“The outside countries give us weapons and bullets little by little,” said Abdel Rahman Ayachi, a commander in Soquor al-Sham, an Islamist fighting group in northern Syria.

They accuse Washington of blocking such deliveries.

“Arming or not arming, lethal or nonlethal — it all depends on what America says,” Mohammed Abu Ahmed, who leads a band of anti-Assad fighters in Idlib Province, told NYT.

The CIA and General Petraeus would not comment when contacted by the newspaper. Turkish and Saudi Arabian officials declined to discuss the arms flights. Croatia and Jordan both denied any role in supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels, NYT says. Jordanian aviation officials reportedly went so far as to insist that no cargo flights occurred, and cut communication after presented evidence to the contrary.