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article imageSyrian rebels seek anti-aircraft missiles to counter air attacks

By Paul Iddon     May 9, 2014 in Politics
Ahmad Jarba, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition says he will ask the United States to provide opposition fighters in Syria with anti-aircraft weaponry.
The U.S. has been committing to supporting the Syrian opposition fighting against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. However it's support has primarily consisted entirely of non-lethal aid. Now Mr. Jarba is requesting lethal aid. He declared that, "We do have a problem with the air forces, the air raids and the barrel bombs. This is making our life a nightmare, so we want weapons that will be able to neutralize the air force."
As AFP reports Jarba had said he would ask for such weaponry. Although he has said nothing about this in public whilst standing alongside U.S Secretary of State John Kerry U.S officials have said the request has been made.
The State Department's Jen Psaki has said she has "nothing to announce in terms of any change in our position [of only supplying the opposition with non-lethal aid]."
Nevertheless, as reported here and on World Bulletin the moderate opposition fighters of which the United States supports (the Free Syrian Army being the most salient example) have been supplied with powerful American-made BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles likely by America's Persian Gulf allies.
They have been given to them on the condition by the United States government that the moderate rebels using them make sure none are stolen, don't resell them and return the canister of each missile they fire.
Yesterday Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, a strong supporter of the Syrian opposition to the rule of Assad, argued, in an editorial in the Washington Post, that the U.S can easily supply the rebels with the means to stop the horrible barrel bomb attacks the Syrian military is carrying out.
Among other things he wrote that,
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.
For this reason, Syrian opposition representatives have repeatedly requested the transfer of anti-aircraft weapons to moderate rebel groups. Syrian Opposition Coalition head Ahmad al-Jarba is making his first visit to Washington this week specifically to make this appeal to President Obama and the American public. Numerous reports have indicated that the White House is reconsidering its previous refusal to furnish Syria’s opposition with man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADS.
The United States, along with the United Kingdom, did of course supply such missiles to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan during the 1980's so they could counter the air superiority held by the Soviet Union which had invaded that country and used helicopter gunships extensively to counter the insurgency there.
More about Syria, Ahmad Jarba, Syrian opposition
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