In a new report detailing how the CIA helps Arab states buy and transfer arms for Syrian rebels, C. J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt of The New York Times reveal a major flaw in the West’s strategy to arm non-radical Syrian rebels.
A commander of Ahrar Al Sham — one of the largest Islamist militias in Syria — told the Times that the American intelligence officers vetting rebels to determine who should receive the weapons are doing a poor job.
“There are fake Free Syrian Army brigades claiming to be revolutionaries, and when they get the weapons they sell them in trade,” the commander told the Times.
In March Blogger Eliot Higgins (aka Brown Moses) — who originally discovered an influx of Croatian weapons in southern Syria — noticed that the Saudi-purchased weapons turning up in the hands of jihadists all over the country.
In some way this makes sense given that radical groups like Jabhat al-Nusra are the best and most organised rebel fighters — they are the opposition’s best chance to topple Bashar al-Assad, and they are flush with cash to boot.
Hardliners receiving the lion’s share of weapons isn’t a new problem. As far back as October Middle East and U.S. officials told the Times that most of the weapons being sent from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to Syrian rebels were going to hard-line Islamic jihadists as opposed to secular-leaning rebels.
“The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” one American official familiar with the situation told the New York Times.
The CIA is currently part of Western effort to “influence which groups dominate in post-Assad Syria” by feeding select rebels actionable intelligence. But the persistent failure to funnel weapons to the “right” rebels, along with the increasing dominance of radical groups, could be a serious problem.
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