CIA aids huge arms smuggling to Syria – report
The flow of arms continues with the help of US agents as
Washington criticizes Iran and Russia for delivering weapons to the
Syrian regime, the New York Times says. Secretary of State John
Kerry pressed Iraq on Sunday to close its airspace to Iranian
flights just as the latest arms delivery from Qatar for Syrian
rebels was landing in Turkey, according to the daily’s
The newspaper cites air traffic data, US and foreign officials and rebel commanders in its investigation.
The airlift reportedly began in early 2012 with a Qatari Emir Air Force C-130 transport aircraft flight. Saudi Arabia and Jordan have joined in in November, when it became a major operation. More than 160 military flights have landed in Turkey over the time. Esenboga Airport near Ankara was the prime destination, but others were also involved, the newspaper claims.
“A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3,500 tons of military equipment,” Hugh Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told the newspaper. He added that it appears as a “well-planned and coordinated clandestine military logistics operation.”
Indeed, CIA agents have a direct input on the deliveries, albeit mostly consultative, NYT says. The spy agency reportedly helps with procurement of weapons in Croatia and vets Syrian rebel groups, which would receive the weapons.
The involvement was supposedly motivated by the fact that the Arab states would supply arms to the Syrian militants anyway. The hopes CIA its can steer away the arms from Islamists’ hands and prevent weapons which can potentially be used by terrorist against civilian targets from being delivered, a former US official told the newspaper.
The operation was a limited success apparently, NYT says, citing
two Islamist commanders.
“There are fake Free Syrian Army brigades claiming to be revolutionaries, and when they get the weapons they sell them in trade,” Hassan Aboud of Soquor al-Sham told the newspaper.
The former official described the program as “a cataract of weaponry.” He said: “People hear the amounts flowing in, and it is huge, but they burn through a million rounds of ammo in two weeks.”
Instrumental to setting up the operation was David H. Petraeus, the CIA director until November, the official said. He had prodded various countries to work together on it.
The scale of the operation increased considerably in November, after the Turkish government agreed to it, the report says. The tipping point may also have been the presidential election in the United States.
Ankara reportedly has oversight over much of the program, down to affixing transponders to trucks ferrying the arms through Turkish territory and across the border. Some in Turkey say Ankara is de facto at war with Damascus because of its involvement in the conflict.
“The use of Turkish airspace at such a critical time, with the conflict in Syria across our borders, and by foreign planes from countries that are known to be central to the conflict, defines Turkey as a party in the conflict,” said Attilla Kart, a member of the Turkish Parliament from the CHP opposition party, who confirmed details about several Saudi shipments. “The government has the responsibility to respond to these claims.”
Still, rebel commanders complain that they do not receive enough weapons and do not get heavier kinds of weapons like anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles.
“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.
They accuse Washington of blocking such deliveries.
“Arming or not arming, lethal or nonlethal — it all depends on what America says,” Mohammed Abu Ahmed, who leads a band of anti-Assad fighters in Idlib Province, told NYT.
The CIA and General Petraeus would not comment when contacted by
the newspaper. Turkish and Saudi Arabian officials declined to
discuss the arms flights. Croatia and Jordan both denied any role
in supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels, NYT says. Jordanian
aviation officials reportedly went so far as to insist that no
cargo flights occurred, and cut communication after presented
evidence to the contrary.