Speculation on Capitol Hill has included the possibility the U.S. agencies operating in Benghazi were secretly helping to move surface-to-air missiles out of Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of Syrian rebels.
|May they meet again soon|
“Actually, we cannot stop anyone from going to Syria. People want to go and fight with the Syrians; no one is going prevent them. Officially, we don’t have this stance; but we cannot control the desire of the people. “Libya took a very revolutionary step to recognise the Syrian National Council. Those who are fighting the regime in Syria, we are supporting them. “The Syrian regime is pushing the country toward a stage that no one wants. They are doing the same as Gaddafi did. The regime will fall sooner or later.”While Assad supporters and the Western media paint Libyans going to Syria with the same jihadist brush they apply to all foreign Arab fighters, the truth is that many support their cousin's struggle for entirely secular reasons and the plain truth is that many, like Che Guevara, are more comfortable carrying on the armed struggle elsewhere than settling into the duller routine of building the revolution at home. Che has become a very popular figure in Libya. This support for the struggle in Syria meant that US government plans to collect and destroy Libya's post-Qaddafi stock of excess heavy weapons had some serious competition. Not only did Qaddafi's African mercenaries, the ones some "anti-imperialists" claimed never existed, take the weapons Qaddafi had given them, along with whatever they could loot, and go back to Mali and other places, there was popular support for sending weapons to Syria. As the New York Times reported a year ago:
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.Qatar, the Arab country that financed much of the arms purchased by those fighting Qaddafi, has been financing much of these arms transfers as well. According to the NY Times, the arms are put on ships or Qatar Emiri Air Force fights, then distributed through a network of intelligence agencies to Syrian opposition leaders in Turkey, which in turn issue them to their fighters on the ground. “It is just the enthusiasm of the Libyan people helping the Syrians,” Fawzi Bukatef, former Libyan brigade leader and ambassador to Uganda told the NY Times. One such ship was the Al Entisar, a Libyan ship that docked in the Turkish port of Iskenderun, 14 September 2012. It was reported by the Times of London that among "more than 400 tonnes of cargo the vessel was carrying were SAM-7 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs)." The delivery was organized by the Libyan National Council for Relief and Support formed to help free Syria. Abdul Basit Haroun, who says he is behind some of the biggest shipments of weapons from Libya to Syria, confirms that the first weapons shipment was smuggled aboard the Libyan ship delivering aid last year but says now arms are flown "above board" into border countries on chartered flights. Haroun said:
"We are doing two great things, the first is that we are taking guns off the street. The mission is so popular that we get 50 percent discounts on weapons."While it was widely reported that this ship was loaded with MANPADS for the rebels, these alleged SA-7s never showed up in Syria. More of the collected weapons have come from the revolutionary brigades than from the Libyan government. For years now, people have been clamoring for the Libyan militias to give up their heavy weapons. This is how they are doing it. A year ago Fawzi Bukatef said Libyan militias had been shipping weapons to Syrian rebels for more than a year. “They collect the weapons, and when they have enough they send it,” he said. “The Libyan government is not involved, but it does not really matter.” One person that was involved was Abdelhakim Belhadj. He was head of the Tripoli Military Council and had been a founder and leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. He has been an anti-Qaddafi activist since the 1980's. After he escaped from Libya, the CIA, with an assist from MI6, special renditioned him back to Qaddafi's "detention." In September 2011, with Tripoli already liberated and Qaddafi on the run, Belhaj took time to write about the founding of the LIFG in the Guardian:
It was 20 years ago that I left my hometown, Tripoli, in search of refuge. Colonel Gaddafi's security apparatus had the country in an iron grip; the eyes of its agents were everywhere. No one was safe. I have lived in many countries since, dedicating all my efforts to one objective: the overthrow of the dictatorship in order to bring about real change in our country. A change that would guarantee a dignified life, freedom and justice. It was clear to me by the end of the 80s that it was impossible to bring about change in a country whose ruler does not believe in plurality of opinion, will not allow a peaceful transition of power, and forces his people to live on low incomes despite the country's wealth. Those in opposition faced all kinds of repression. Even the right to religious freedom was violated – saying prayers in the mosques could land one in prison. Faced with this reality, there was no option but to resort to arms, and I and others founded the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. More...He didn't have long to reminisce. Qaddafi was killed in October and by November Belhadj was off on his newest adventure, meeting with Free Syrian Army leaders in Istanbul and on the Turkish-Syria border about how the new Libyan government could best provide weapons and other provisions to their brothers-in-arms in Syria. Ruth Sherlock, reporting from Tripoli for The Telegraph wrote:
Mr Belhaj also discussed sending Libyan fighters to train troops, the source said. Having ousted one dictator, triumphant young men, still filled with revolutionary fervour, are keen to topple the next. The commanders of armed gangs still roaming Tripoli's streets said yesterday that "hundreds" of fighters wanted to wage war against the Assad regime.This is how Libyans came to be the majority of the foreign fighters against Assad in Syria. They had the revolutionary spirit, they had the real world combat experience and they had the weapons. They brought the weapons with them.
Perhaps the headline should have more accurately said the CIA was involved in steering arms away from the Syria opposition because that is what it was doing. The US was using its influence to stop the flow of any weapons to "unapproved" opposition groups and stop the flow of certain heavy weapons, such as MANPADS, to all opposition groups, without itself contributing a single weapon. Less than two months later, 13 Aug 2012, an article in the Australian echoed the same view and reported on the opposition response:
C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian OppositionA small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers. The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said. The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said. More...
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, Syrian opposition officials say. "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."Apparently Obama's CIA and State Department were successful in keeping Libyan MANPADS out of Syria because to that point not a single aircraft had been shot down by Assad's opposition with a MANPADS. Another FSA officer, Ahmad al-Fajj, a brigadier-general in the Syrian Arab Army before his defection, was interviewed by AFP in Atmeh on the Turkish border, 25 Sept 2012. Faji said:
“The free peoples of the world – Europeans, Americans – must understand that their governments are indirectly responsible for the killings in our country.” “We asked all the arms dealers and traffickers in the region to sell us anti-aircraft missiles. They told us they needed the green light from the CIA and Mossad, and the light was red.” “They won’t sell us anti-tank weapons for the same reason. All we have to defeat [Assad’s] tanks are the RPGs we manage to retrieve from the enemy.”In spite of these problems, MANPADS, specifically the older Soviet SA-7 models popular with both Qaddafi and Assad, did start to show up in Syrian rebel hands around the middle of 2012, although there aren't documented reports of a regime warplane being brought down with one until 27 November 2012 when a Syrian Air Force Mi-8 helicopter was brought down by a surface-to-air missile that most likely came from a SA-7. Business Insider attempted to use a sourced map created by journalist Damien Spleeter of MANPADS sightings in Syria to prove their theory that the Syrian opposition was receiving MANPADS from Libya. To make their point, in the version of Spleeter's map they published, they add a red tag noting the Turkish port of Iskenderun "where the massive SA-7 shipment docked," according to them, and they removed Spleeter's details of the MANPADS sightings. With those details we can see that of the 20 MANPADS sightings documented, only 6 involved complete MANPADS and only 2 document MANPADS being fired. So this map, rather than indicating a massive shipment of complete SA-7s arrived from Libya, indicates rather that some MANPADS in various conditions were being captured or purchased in Syria and a few had been pieced together good enough to be used.
|Is this Abdelhakim Belhadj?|
This blog had documented the part-by-part appearance in rebel hands of one old heat-seeking system, known as the SA-7. Since midsummer there have been occasional sightings of full systems but none, as far as we know, showing the system in actual use. Two videos recently posted on YouTube suggest that what had been expected is now occurring.The second video, 15 Oct 2012, Chivers referred to shows two guys on a motor bike with a SA-7. There are at least 20 other YouTube postings that show MANPADS in opposition hands, Brown Moses maintains a list, before a plane is finally brought down with one, including videos of the same man with the more advanced SA-16 and SA-24 and a SA-7 being fired on 20 Nov 2012. A week later a Syrian Mi-8 helicopter was brought down by a missile and it looked like the rebels had scored their first MANPADS kill of the conflict, 27 Nov 2012. The day after that first MANPADS kill, 28 Nov 2014, the Guardian reported:
Just as the clamour for supplying the Syrian opposition with sophisticated new weapons looked to be reaching a tipping point in the Gulf and the west, the rebels have clearly got hold of some arms of their own. ... the rebels' principal backers, in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been chafing ever more loudly against the US veto on supplies of sophisticated, potentially decisive weapons such as shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles (widely known as Manpads – an acronym for man-portable air-defence systems) to the rebels.With a rising death toll from Assad's aerial bombardment, they were growing impatient with "the US veto" against the modern air defense weapons. The Guardian continues:
"We did this as a favour to Obama," a Gulf source said. "But now Obama has been re-elected, there is a question of whether we should still be bound by such an undertaking." Shoulder-launched missiles could be bought in Pakistan or in Africa, the source added. So far, there is no evidence that any of the ground-to-air missiles used to date have come from outside Syria, according to Peter Bouckaert. Emergencies director for Human Rights Watch. "Everything we have seen so far has been captured from Syrian army bases. We have kept a close watch on what has been coming out of Libya but we have seen no surface-to-air missiles from there used in Syria," Bouckaert said.The Guardian said the shoot-down "could mark a turning point in the conflict" but by-and-large, Obama's prohibition on MANPADS for the rebels held. While YouTube would record many other sightings, both of the SA-7 and more advanced SA-24 [Damien Spleeters work] in the hands of the opposition, it would be more than eleven weeks before another of Assad's warplanes was brought down by one, 14 February 2013, when the Free Syrian Army shot down a Syrian fighter jet over Homs, Idlib. A few days later, a Hip transport helicopter was also shot down over Menagh Airbase and on 5 March 2013 FSA shot down an aircraft over Aleppo airport. They did this with a new type of MANPADS and from a new source. They were Chinese made FH-6 MANPADS and we know they weren't captured because Assad didn't have any. Brown Moses reported on these Chinese MANPADS sightings. An opposition source told the Guardian:
"These were not weapons that had been captured from Syrian army bases as before. These were released from the Turkish warehouses. These are weapons the opposition had purchased previously but had not been allowed to take across the border." "Before, 23mm was the maximum calibre for anti-aircraft guns permitted and we were allowed to bring in RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] but not armour-piercing shells."This statement completely characterizes the US role in "funneling arms to the rebels" in a nutshell. They weren't helping them obtain arms at all. While thousands of Syrian civilians were being murdered by Assad warplanes, the US has put itself in a position where it could deny the Syrian opposition air defense weapons which it had already purchased! 25 March 2013 the New York Times described the CIA arms control program and the rebel complaints:
From offices at secret locations, American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive, according to American officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. Still, rebel commanders have criticized the shipments as insufficient, saying the quantities of weapons they receive are too small and the types too light to fight Mr. Assad’s military effectively. They also accused those distributing the weapons of being parsimonious or corrupt. “The outside countries give us weapons and bullets little by little,” said Abdel Rahman Ayachi, a commander in Soquor al-Sham, an Islamist fighting group in northern Syria. He made a gesture as if switching on and off a tap. “They open and they close the way to the bullets like water,” he said.The newspaper also explained that the US got involved so that it could control a process that was going to happen anyway. “These countries were going to do it one way or another,” the former official said. “They weren’t asking for a ‘Mother, may I?’”
The American government became involved, the former American official said, in part because there was a sense that other states would arm the rebels anyhow. The C.I.A. role in facilitating the shipments, he said, gave the United States a degree of influence over the process, including trying to steer weapons away from Islamist groups and persuading donors to withhold portable antiaircraft missiles that might be used in future terrorist attacks on civilian aircraft.Apparently possible attacks on civilians targets wasn't a reason for withholding MANPADS from Washington's proxies in Afghanistan, but now, while Assad is killing thousands of civilians from the air, they are used as an excuse to allow him to continue. Never mind that MANPADS are already available on the black market. Three months later, 29 June 2013, The New York Times reported that Qatar was defying the banned, or at least making a show at defying the ban:
As an intermittent supply of arms to the Syrian opposition gathered momentum last year, the Obama administration repeatedly implored its Arab allies to keep one type of powerful weapon out of the rebels’ hands: heat-seeking shoulder-fired missiles. But one country ignored this admonition: Qatar, Since the beginning of the year, according to four American and Middle Eastern officials with knowledge of intelligence reports on the weapons, Qatar has used a shadowy arms network to move at least two shipments of shoulder-fired missiles, one of them a batch of Chinese-made FN-6s, to Syrian rebels who have used them against Mr. Assad’s air force. ... The shipments were small, the Western officials and rebels said, amounting to no more than a few dozen missiles.Other sources reported that these missiles didn't work too good:
Normally effective anti-aircraft missiles, the arms supplied by Qatar have been reportedly plagued with technical problems, including the batteries running out of power, the targeting systems not working, and the missiles failing to reach their targets.Still the rebels continued to work with what they had. On 13 May 2013 FSA's Ahfad al-Rasul Battalions shot down an aircraft over Abu al-Dhuhur airbase with an older SA-7 and on 10 June 2013, a sixth Assad warplane, another helicopter, was brought down with a MANPADS, this time a SA-24, near the town of Nubl, northwest of Aleppo. On 20 July 2013 FSA 9th Division shot down a jet with a SA-7 and on 18 August 2013 Ahrar al-Sham shot down a jet with a FN-6. It would be more than two months before a ninth warplane was brought down by a rebel MANPADS on 26 Oct 2013. That last one used a rigged battery pack strapped to the shooters leg, indicating that the problem of dead battery packs had been overcome. Most recently a helicopter was shot down with a rocket on 1 April 2014. I may have missed a downed aircraft or two in my survey of the open source intelligence, but the point is, it is a very small number given the thousands of sorties Assad has flown against civilian targets. Beyond a few dozen funky MANPADS supplied by Qatar, there is little indication that they have received these weapons from other outside sources. The Wall St. Journal reported 14 Feb 2013:
Earlier in the conflict, rebels managed to seize a limited number of Manpads from regime forces. But they quickly ran out of the missiles to arm them, the Western diplomat said.This is how effective Obama's sanction against MANPADS for the Syria opposition has been, in a war in which the Assad regime has made unlimited use of its air supremacy to indiscriminately slaughter civilians, especially children, in liberated areas, they have managed to bring down only ten of Assad's aerial death delivery systems with the sort of advanced technology that would be available to them without US interference. This is how the Obama administration has been "helping" the Syrian opposition overthrow the dictator he keeps saying should step down. This has been the result:
|One of the oldest cities on Earth | Aleppo. Syria | 6 May 2014|
The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida. (The DNI spokesperson said: ‘The idea that the United States was providing weapons from Libya to anyone is false.’) In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi...A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. ... The annex didn’t tell the whole story of what happened in Benghazi before the attack, nor did it explain why the American consulate was attacked. ‘The consulate’s only mission was to provide cover for the moving of arms,’ the former intelligence official, who has read the annex, said. ‘It had no real political role.’ Washington abruptly ended the CIA’s role in the transfer of arms from Libya after the attack on the consulate, but the rat line kept going. ‘The United States was no longer in control of what the Turks were relaying to the jihadists,’ the former intelligence official said. Within weeks, as many as forty portable surface-to-air missile launchers, commonly known as manpads, were in the hands of Syrian rebels. On 28 November 2012, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post reported that the previous day rebels near Aleppo had used what was almost certainly a manpad to shoot down a Syrian transport helicopter.So in the Sy Hersh version there is no mention of the weapons destruction program that predated the Libyan situation, the US and Turkey have the power to make agreements binding Qatar and Saudi Arabia to fund projects, and the Obama administration is the main force behind regime change in Syria. He makes that clear when he discusses the "rat-line" with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now:
In effect, you could almost say that, in his own way, Obama—you can call it shrewd or brilliant. He was almost channeling Saudi Arabia and Qatari and the Turks to get something done we wanted done, which was to have the opposition defeat Bashar al-Assad. And that’s what it was.No need to involve the Syrians in this equation. If Obama wants to see the opposition defeat Bashar al Assad, he certainly has a funny way of showing it. When the US imperialists were going for regime change in Afghanistan in the 1980's, they had no problem giving their proxies the latest MANPADS. If they really wanted to see Assad defeated, Syrian planes would be swatted from the skies with them now. After more than three years of struggle against the fascist Assad regime, the tragic facts on the ground expose the lie that the US and NATO really do want to see and end to the Assad Regime or that they are secretly funding and supplying the opposition. So Sy Hersh thinks the Obama administration has provided the Syrian rebels with boat loads of MANPADS. Well, where are they?
Saudi Arabia has stockpiles of the weapons but is waiting for U.S. permission to send them into Syria, a step the White House has so far refused to authorize.Now the White House is saying that they may allow the opposition to have MANPADS if they can be outfitted with fingerprint scanners and GPS systems to keep them from being misused, but this will take time to design and implement. Given that such solutions have been proposed for many years now, to talk about having to create them now before the weapons can be given to the Syrian rebels is just another delaying tactic. Meanwhile Assad keeps bombing and the people keep dying. FP concludes:
If the administration ultimately signs off, only small numbers of MANPADS would be sent Syria at one time, raising doubts about whether such a modest amount of arms would help turn the tide of the war. The technical challenges with the GPS locks may provide a convenient excuse for the administration to avoid having to answer that question and sending the missiles at all.So far America's legacy in Syria is Obama's policy and that shameful legacy is that when a fire was consuming the Syrian house, we held back the fire hose. The Syrian National Council estimates that at least 20,000 people have been killed by Assad's barrel bomb attacks since March 2011. Allepo has been so heavily bombed this year that on 22 February 2014, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution demanding an end to the barrel-bombing. Even the Russians supported it. Using satellite photos, Human Rights Watch was able to identify at least 340 distinct damage sites in the 113-day period before 20 February 2014. The resolution made no difference, it had no teeth, the bombing continued. In the 40 days between 22 February and 2 April HRW identified an additional 85 impact sites in liberated neighborhoods. The Violations Document Center reported that aerial attacks killed 651 civilians in Aleppo province between the pasting of the UNSC resolution and 22 April. And while Assad continues to slaughter civilians from the air in violation of the UN resolution, he faces little in the way of threat from MANPADS on the ground. Only one of his warplanes was brought down by a MANPADS in this whole period. In a Washington Post opinion piece titled "America can stop the ‘barrel bombs’ in Syria", 8 May 2014, Mohammed Alaa Ghanem argues:
It would not take much for the United States to make a difference. A man whose neighborhood has endured numerous bombings reports that, after one regime helicopter was shot down by opposition forces, all attacks from the air ceased for 15 days. So a slight increase in the opposition’s capacity to target helicopters could have an enormous payoff in lives saved.On Tuesday the US upgraded the Washington offices of the Syrian National Coalition to "foreign mission" status. While that is well short of diplomatic recognition, it is progress. Now SNC President Ahmad Jarba is in Washington, DC for high level talks. Better and heavier weapons for those fighting Bashar al-Assad are sure to be on his shopping list. MANPADS would be the single most game changing and life saving thing the opposition needs. In this age of smart guns, there are many ways to make sure they aren't misused. Barack Obama should lift his ban against MANPADS for the people Assad is bombing.
Positive meeting with @JohnKerry yesterday at the @StateDept http://t.co/faIQNadanN + https://t.co/MliTxlR8hv #Syria pic.twitter.com/Q810qmmP2d — Ahmad Jarba (@A_Jarba) May 9, 2014Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria