How the U.S. is waging a covert war in Syria
In what's being dubbed (perhaps optimistically) as a "carefully prepared covert operation" the U.S. and European powers are directing increasingly sophisticated weapons shipments from Gulf states to Syria's rebels, the AP is reporting. Arms shipments to Syrian rebels have doubled over the past four weeks as the rebels have encroached on the Syrian capital.
The division of labor reportedly looks like this: Saudi Arabia and Qatar fund the weapons purchases from Croatia or black market arms dealers in Europe; Jordan and Turkey provide land access for the weapons to enter Syria, while the U.S. and Europe 'coordinate' who gets what. According to an "Arab official, a diplomat and military experts" quoted by the AP, only "secular fighters" are receiving the weapons. How that is ensured, however, was not revealed.
The Syrian rebels have advanced to Damascus and the covert effort was being framed as giving the rebels the needed muscle to secure supply lines between Jordan and Damascus and then make a final move on the capital:
The opening of the weapons pipeline through Jordan “provides a fresh approach” to Syrian rebels, said Shashank Joshi, a military expert who has been monitoring the arms flow for two years for Britain’s Royal United Services Institute think tank.
“This way opens a new front in southern Syria. It breaks free from connections with Saudi and Lebanese middlemen (in Turkey), while ensuring the weapons get to those rebels with secular, or nationalist ties, rather than the jihadists,” he said.
Sweden-based arms trafficking expert Hugh Griffiths, who has been monitoring the arms flow and collecting independent data, said some 3,500 tons of military equipment have been shipped to the rebels since the traffic began in early 2012. He said there were at least 160 airlifts of weapons deliveries from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and later Jordan, with the most recent being a shipment of unspecified material from Qatar to Turkey on Sunday.
“Nothing compares in terms of the intensity of these flights over months-long periods at a time,” said Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Two prominent independent researchers monitoring weapons traffic — Eliot Higgins in Britain and Nic Jenzen-Jones in Australia — said Croatian arms began appearing only recently in Syria. They include M60 recoilless guns, M79 Osa rocket launchers, and RBG-6 grenade launchers, which all are powerful anti-tank weapons.
No word yet on how Washington plans to cope with a failed state in Syria that is awash in the weapons it's helping to pour in.