US arms Syrian rebels with first heavy weapons, anti-tank BGM-71 TOW missiles – raising war stakes

Two Syrian rebel militias judged moderate in Washington have in the last few days taken delivery and begun using – mostly in the Idlib region – the first advanced US weapon to be deployed in more than three years of civil war, debkafile’s military sources reveal. It is the heavy anti-tank, optically-tracked, wire-guided BGM-71 TOW, which is capable of piercing 50mm thickness of Syrian tank armor and Syrian fortifications at a range of 4 kilometers. Armed with this weapon now are Brig-Gen. Abdul-Hila al Bashir, the new commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, which is headquartered at the Golan town of Quneitra, and Jamal Maarouf, head of the rebel Syrian Revolutionary Front fighting in the north.

The appearance of this advanced missile radically alters the balance of strength on the Syrian battlefield. It also denotes a striking change in Obama administration policy, which hitherto flatly resisted every demand to provide Syrian rebel groups with the heavy arms essential for them to have any chance of standing up to Bashar Assad’s superior military strength.

Our sources report that in the last few days, the new weapons are being airlifted in through two routes: the southeastern Turkish town of Diyarbakir on the Tigris, and the giant northern Saudi King Faisal Air Base at Tabuk near the Jordanian border.

Our military sources report that Syrian tank armor is not thick enough to withstand the BGM-71 TOW rockets. To save his tanks, Assad has shifted the brunt of his anti-rebel operation to heavy air force bombardments, which claim a heavy toll among civilians.

Washington is therefore confronted with its next decision about whether to give the rebels sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons as well.

According to our sources in Washington and Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov obtained from US Secretary of State John Kerry a commitment, when they met in Paris last week, not to supply the rebels with hand held anti-aircraft missiles.

Full article: US arms Syrian rebels with first heavy weapons, anti-tank BGM-71 TOW missiles – raising war stakes (DEBKAfile)

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