The Los Angeles Times reports: CIA operatives and U.S. special operations troops have been secretly training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons since late last year, months before President Obama approved plans to begin directly arming them, according to U.S. officials and rebel commanders.
The covert U.S. training at bases in Jordan and Turkey, along with Obama’s decision this month to supply arms and ammunition to the rebels, has raised hope among the beleaguered Syrian opposition that Washington ultimately will provide heavier weapons as well. So far, the rebels say they lack the weapons they need to regain the offensive in the country’s bitter civil war.
The tightly constrained U.S. effort reflects Obama’s continuing doubts about being drawn into a conflict that has already killed more than 100,000 people and his administration’s fear that Islamic militants now leading the war against President Bashar Assad could gain control of advanced U.S. weaponry.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports: During his more than four decades in power, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya was North Africa’s outrageously self-styled arms benefactor, a donor of weapons to guerrillas and terrorists around the world fighting governments he did not like.
Even after his death, the colonel’s gunrunning vision lives on, although in ways he probably would have loathed.
Many of the same people who chased the colonel to his grave are busy shuttling his former arms stockpiles to rebels in Syria. The flow is an important source of weapons for the uprising and a case of bloody turnabout, as the inheritors of one strongman’s arsenal use them in the fight against another.
Evidence gathered in Syria, along with flight-control data and interviews with militia members, smugglers, rebels, analysts and officials in several countries, offers a profile of a complex and active multinational effort, financed largely by Qatar, to transport arms from Libya to Syria’s opposition fighters. Libya’s own former fighters, who sympathize with Syria’s rebels, have been eager collaborators.
“It is just the enthusiasm of the Libyan people helping the Syrians,” said Fawzi Bukatef, the former leader of an alliance of Libyan brigades who was recently named ambassador to Uganda, in an interview in Tripoli.
As the United States and its Western allies move toward providing lethal aid to Syrian rebels, these secretive transfers give insight into an unregistered arms pipeline that is difficult to monitor or control. And while the system appears to succeed in moving arms across multiple borders and to select rebel groups, once inside Syria the flow branches out. Extremist fighters, some of them aligned with Al Qaeda, have the money to buy the newly arrived stock, and many rebels are willing to sell. [Continue reading…]