Syria rebels dream of weapons to down aircraft

AFP reports: On the edge of the Saif al-Dawla district of Aleppo, a commander argues with a rebel. He has ordered him to try to take out a regime tank, alone and with a single rocket-propelled grenade.

“Just one is enough — you can take out the whole army,” the commander tells the reluctant fighter.

The scene is one repeated across the frontlines of the battle between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian regime, as the rag-tag rebel forces try to take on tanks, helicopter gunships and fighter jets with armoury that is desperately lacking.

Rebel commanders say the weapons they do have — Kalashnikovs, some RPGs, a handful of anti-aircraft guns — are old and expensive while the weapons they need to take on the might of an army are impossible to come by.

“I flew MIG war planes for 12 years, and we are fighting these planes with Kalashnikovs, and not even good Kalashnikovs,” says Alaa Saadeddin, a defected pilot.

“Anti-aircraft guns are the heaviest weapon we have,” he adds. “We don’t have ground-to-ground rockets, we don’t have Grads, we don’t have surface-to-air missiles.”

When Abu Maryam decided to set up his own rebel brigade, he approached the Liwa al-Tawhid, a rebel umbrella group, to ask about the possibility of getting weapons.

“Liwa al-Tawhid gave us two Kalashnikovs, but we had to find a way to buy the rest. We have 22 men and 12 guns, so we will go in groups. The first group will take the guns, when they come back, they will give the guns to the second group.”

And the weapons that are available don’t come cheap — a Kalashnikov goes for 150,000 Syrian pounds, nearly $2,400, bullets start at $2 each, and a grenade will set you back over $150, according to commanders.

Syria’s rebels laugh at stories of Libyan fighters who regularly unloaded their weapons into the air to celebrate a victory on the battlefront.

“If any rebel in any group fires a single bullet in any direction other than at the enemy, they will be kicked out of the group,” Saadeddin said.

Western nations have said they are providing non-lethal aid, in the form of money or communications equipment to the rebels, and the opposition Syrian National Council says countries including Saudi Arabia and Qatar have provided arms to fighters inside the country.

But the weapons in evidence on the ground look as old as rebels claim they are — beaten-up guns and dusty RPGs that are a world away from the shiny new equipment that was in circulation on the Libyan battlefield.

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