- Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images
Worried about a lack of support from the US, rebel groups in Syria are reportedly requesting man-portable air-defense systems (or Manpads) to shoot down Russian planes that are bombing them, according to multiple reports.
Russia started bombing targets in Syria last week, avoiding the strongholds of ISIS – the terror group they claim to be bombing – and instead going after CIA-backed rebels and others who are fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Now those CIA-backed rebels want protection against Russian strikes.
“We need one of two things. Either a clear policy from the United States to prevent Russia and the regime from bombing Syrians, or otherwise they should send us antiaircraft missiles so that we can confront the Russian planes,” Hassan Haj Ali, the commander of US-backed rebel brigade Suqour al-Jabal, told The Washington Post last week.
“If they don’t help us, people will lose trust in our supporters, and this will increase extremism,” he added.
Capt. Mustafa Moarati, a spokesman for the CIA-backed Tajamu al-Izza rebel brigade, echoed Ali’s lamentations: “At least they could give us antiaircraft missiles.”
The US has agreed to protect the rebels that have been trained in a program run by the Pentagon, but not those the CIA covertly supports, according to The Journal.
“The White House has succeeded at keeping Manpads out of Syria since the start of the war because of concerns they could fall into the wrong hands and be used against commercial aircraft in the region and beyond,” Adam Entous wrote in The Journal.
There are many anti-Assad factions operating in Syria, and some Manpads imported into the country have been obtained by jihadi groups like ISIS, which seized territory (along with weapons caches) in Iraq and Syria. But the skies over Syria are much more crowded now.
- CBS News
Even if the US doesn’t agree to supply the rebels with Manpads, they might find other ways to gain access to them, which could create a “nightmare scenario,” one US official told the newspaper.
“These groups are talking about the possibility of introducing Manpads in an uncontrolled way into areas where al-Qaeda operates to respond to the Russians since we won’t respond,” a senior US official told The Journal.
“That’s the nightmare right now.”
The CIA-backed nationalist rebels argue that it is in the US interest to provide deterrents against the Russian onslaught.
Moarati, the Tajamu al-Izza spokesman, told The Post that the Russians were bombing the US-backed brigades in order to obliterate the moderates and fill the void with extremists.
“They are doing this for two reasons. Firstly, because we are friends with the United States and they want to challenge the United States,” Moarati said. “And secondly, to vanquish the Free Syrian Army on the ground to show the world that only extremists are fighting Assad and that therefore he should survive.”