Syrian rebels get first heavy weapons on the front line of Aleppo
June 19, 2013 by Richard Spencer
The First new heavy weapons have arrived on Syria’s front lines following President Barack Obama’s decision to put Western military might behind the official opposition, rebels have told The Daily Telegraph.
Rebel sources said Russian-made “Konkurs” anti-tank missiles had been supplied by America’s key Gulf ally, Saudi Arabia. They have already been used to destructive effect and may have held up a promised regime assault on Aleppo.
A handful of the missiles were already in use and in high demand after opposition forces looted them from captured regime bases.
More have now arrived, confirming reports that the White House has lifted an unofficial embargo on its Gulf allies sending heavy weapons to the rebels.
Last week, the White House said it would send military support to Syria’sopposition after concluding that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime had used chemical agents against them.
Unlike rocket-propelled grenades, the Konkurs – Contest in English – can penetrate the regime’s most advanced tanks, Russian-made T72s.
“We now have supplies from Saudi Arabia,” a rebel source said. “We have been told more weapons are on their way, even higher-end missiles.”
At the G8 this week Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, condemned the West’s attempts to send arms to the opposition, even though he did not rule out fulfilling existing arms contracts with the regime.
On Syria’s front lines, rebels are already using Russian missiles to destroy the regime’s Russian tanks.
Thanks to Russian backing over the last half century, Syria’s army was the best equipped in the region, and its captured bases have handed a limited number of anti-tank and anti-aicraft missiles to the opposition.
But the number of Konkurs missiles seen in videos escalated at the beginning of this month, tangible evidence of the new Saudi supply line.
In the hills above the Syrian village of Kafra Hamra, north of Aleppo, The Daily Telegraph found rebels talking almost lovingly of the Konkurs as they kept watch on the regime’s tanks 800 yards away.
“We have one or two left but my unit has run out already,” said Abdullah Da’ass, a burly, bearded fighter with the Free Men of Syria brigade. “We were given five. We fired four, and took out four regime tanks, and one was a dud.”
Mr Assad’s regime has hundreds of T72s in northern Syria. The future of this war may depend on how many more portable missile systems the rebels are given. In the past two weeks the tanks have made a number of sallies, testing rebel lines, but have been driven back, rebels say.
After the fall of Qusayr on June 5, the regime promised an all-out attack on Aleppo, but it has not yet materialised.
Ahmed Hafash, the leader of Free Men of Syria, the non-Islamist brigade leading the defence of Kafra Hamra, said he expected the assault to drive north away from the city.
Five kilometres north-east lie two loyalist Shia towns, Nobbul and Zahra, where a regime general has raised a local militia several thousand-strong and flown in reinforcements from the Labenese militia Hizbollah.
Walky-talky intercepts suggest the regime hopes to link up with these towns and press on to relieve the Minegh air base, under rebel siege for 10 months, and then head to the Turkish border nearby. Having cut the north in two, the regime could squeeze out the rebels in their rural strongholds and surround Aleppo.
On the hill opposite the rebels sits the regime’s forward advance post, an unfinished apartment block – “full of Iranians”, said a rebel sub-commander, Abu Staif Aloush.
His unit guards the presumed path of the regime’s attack, occupying a development of half-built villas, full of Kalashnikovs and shell-holes.
The regime has 20,000 men based around the Air Force Intelligence barracks behind the front, the rebels say, but has spared 2,500 for this front. The rebels have possibly a similar number, but whether the tanks rolling over the hills can punch through them depends on their defences.
Mr Da’ass, the fighter, claimed that even without fresh supplies, the rebels would still be victorious. “If we have no weapons, we will hit them with our slippers,” he said.
But Mr Aloush said: “We need an air-fly zone, and anti-tank missiles, or if not a no-fly zone, anti-aircraft missiles too.”
The last major weapons shipment comprised rockets and other arms from the former Yugoslavia, paid for by Qatar. However, some were seen in the hands of the Al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the supply dried up, apparently under American instruction, six months ago.
Mr Aloush pledged the same would not happen again. “Every missile will be recorded, where we shot and under whose supervision,” he said.
Whether that will be true for other brigades supplied by the Saudis is another matter, of course. The Saudis are now the favoured conduit, and the rebels’ new best friends.