The weekend before last I was in Hatay province, in southern Turkey, interviewing Syrian rebels and activists, who all complained of the lack of foreign assistance in toppling the Assad regime. Even the “non-lethal” aid that the Obama administration had promised hadn’t seemed to make it through to these fighters, many of whom had spent as much as $6,000 of their own money to buy black-market Kalashnikovs.
A lot’s changed in a week.
Rebel sources in Hatay told me last night that not only is Turkey supplying light arms to select battalion commanders, it is also training Syrians in Istanbul. Men from the unit I was embedded with were vetted and called up by Turkish intelligence in the last few days and large consignments of AK-47s are being delivered by the Turkish military to the Syrian-Turkish border. No one knows where the guns came from originally, but no one much cares.
This news, which has provided a much-needed morale boost to Syria’s embattled opposition, does appear to corroborate a recent report by the Washington Post that the United States has been facilitating the transfer of Gulf-purchased weapons to the rebels:
The U.S. contacts with the rebel military and the information-sharing with gulf nations mark a shift in Obama administration policy as hopes dim for a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Many officials now consider an expanding military confrontation to be inevitable.
Material is being stockpiled in Damascus, in Idlib near the Turkish border and in Zabadani on the Lebanese border. Opposition activists who two months ago said the rebels were running out of ammunition said this week that the flow of weapons — most still bought on the black market in neighboring countries or from elements of the Syrian military — has significantly increased after a decision by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other gulf states to provide millions of dollars in funding each month.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said this about the Post’s scoop: “We continue to provide non-lethal support to the opposition. And while I can only speak for the United States, we know that others are pursuing different types of support, and I’d refer you to them to characterise the nature of their actions.”
Read More: Telegraph