Russia doubles number of daily airstrikes in Syria as rebels intensify their attacks

The New York Times reports: Russian warplanes are carrying out more airstrikes in support of Syrian government ground troops as rebels are firing more American antitank weapons, deepening the impression that a proxy war between the United States and Russia is joining the list of interlocking conflicts in Syria.

Russia doubled the number of its airstrikes over the weekend to more than 60 a day, Russian state news media said, helping government troops take two villages on Monday.

Videos posted online by pro-Russian outlets, from an area above the village of Tal Skayk, in Hama Province, showed Syrian troops and allied militias watching as heavy barrages sent smoke towering from clusters of houses, while a narrator enthusiastically described progress in fighting “terrorists.”

At the same time, the handful of insurgent groups that received covert assistance from the United States have intensified their use of TOW antitank guided missiles, posting more than two dozen videos in the past few days of the missiles weaving over open fields before hitting their targets. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: It is unclear whether the TOWs will be able to change the course of the war, as did the Stinger antiaircraft missiles introduced in the 1980s by the CIA in Afghanistan, where they were used by the mujahideen to shoot down Russian helicopters and paralyze the Soviet army.

Now that the Russians have introduced more intensive and heavier airstrikes and, for the first time, combat helicopters have been seen in videos strafing villages in the Hama area, the TOW missiles may only be able to slow, but not block, government advances.

The rebels have appealed for the delivery of Stinger missiles or their equivalents to counter the new threat from the air, but U.S. officials say that is unlikely. The Obama administration has repeatedly vetoed past requests from the rebels, as well as their Turkish and Saudi allies, for the delivery of antiaircraft missiles, out of concerns that they could fall into extremist hands.

But the TOW missile program is already in progress, and all the indications are that it will continue. Saudi Arabia, the chief supplier, has pledged a “military” response to the Russian incursion, and rebel commanders say they have been assured more will arrive imminently.

Under the terms of the program, the missiles are delivered in limited quantities, and the rebel groups must return the used canisters to secure more, to avoid stockpiling or resale.

The supplies of the missiles, manufactured by Raytheon, are sourced mainly from stocks owned by the Saudi government, which purchased 13,795 of them in 2013, for expected delivery this year, according to Defense Department documents informing Congress of the sale. Because end-user agreements require that the buyer inform the United States of their ultimate destination, U.S. approval is implicit, said [Oubai ] Shahbandar, a former Pentagon adviser. [Continue reading…]

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