Editors Notes: Misleading headline. The CIA is controlling weapon shipments into Syria “At the same time, they[CIA] have approved supplies of AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles, and just over a month ago they [CIA] gave the green light to a shipment of 10,000 Russian-made rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).” Read: Syrian rebels acquire surface-to-air missiles
Source: The Australian
DESPITE mounting calls in Washington for a more aggressive US military role in Syria, the CIA has been quietly working along its northern border with Turkey to limit the supplies of weapons and ammunition reaching rebel forces, according to Syrian opposition officials.
“Not one bullet enters Syria without US approval,” one official complained in Istanbul. “The Americans want the [rebellion] to continue, but they are not allowing enough supplies in to make the Damascus regime fall.”
Details of the CIA’s policing activities offer a rare insight into the complex struggle for regional advantage that is rapidly developing at the margins of the Syrian civil war. Conducted mostly by clandestine agents from America, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran, the conflict has turned Turkey’s rugged border provinces into a hotbed of arms dealers, spies and would-be fighters.
Over the past 10 months, a Syrian opposition official told The Sunday Times, the CIA has blocked shipments of heavy anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, which rebel units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have long described as vital to their efforts to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
At the same time, they have approved supplies of AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles, and just over a month ago they gave the green light to a shipment of 10,000 Russian-made rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).
“The weapons are being carried across the border on donkeys, which are especially good for carrying ammunition,” the official said. Since the fall to rebel forces of Azaz, a Syrian town near the Turkish border, guns have begun to arrive by truck.
The weapons are either bought on the black market in Istanbul or supplied by the rebels’ allies in Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. “Qatar sends money and usually says, ‘go and buy what you want’,” the official said. “The Turks just give the weapons free of charge, especially light anti-tank weapons.”
Yet rebel frustration is mounting at the CIA’s reluctance to allow heavy weaponry across the border, for fear that it may eventually be used against America’s allies
Yet rebel frustration is mounting at the CIA’s reluctance to allow heavy weaponry across the border, for fear that it may eventually be used against America’s allies.
“The RPGs aren’t enough,” the opposition official said. “You have to be close to the tank to make any impact, and often the fighter using it gets killed.”
The CIA’s activities highlight an awkward contradiction in Washington’s approach to Syria. While President Barack Obama’s administration supports the rebel uprising, has called for Assad to step down and is supplying opposition forces with millions of dollars in non-lethal aid, it has shied from a more forcible military intervention.
Suggestions that Washington is deliberately prolonging the conflict while it attempts to identify a friendly successor to Assad were described by one former CIA official as “a little too Machiavellian” last week.
Yet Washington’s hesitant strategy is increasingly coming under fire from both Republicans and Democrats who fear US inaction will encourage Al-Qa’ida and other extremists to build a power-base in a post-Assad Syria.
CIA agents have been active along the border, attempting to prevent jihadists sympathetic to Al-Qa’ida from joining the Syrian fray. “The CIA vetoes Al-Qa’ida and it’s not very keen on the Muslim Brotherhood,” a Syrian opposition official said.
Khaled Khoja, from the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), said American fears of an Islamist takeover were unfounded. “Islamists in Syria are a very minor group, no more than 2000 soldiers compared with more than 100,000 FSA members,” he said. “They can be controlled. This won’t be a new Iraq [where US forces found themselves confronted by a flood of Islamic insurgents]”.
Senior SNC members said Britain was supplying neither money nor arms to the FSA. “The Brits are at the end of the line, we ask them for money and military assistance, they tell us to submit projects as if we were talking about business plans,” said one frustrated official.
With both the CIA and Israel’s Mossad attempting to locate Syria’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and Iranian agents keeping a close eye on western intervention, southern Turkey is beginning to resemble a desert version of cold war Berlin – teeming with spies engaged in a largely secret battle for scraps of intelligence from a distant war.