AriRusila's Conflicts

The Syrian rebellion began in earnest on March 11, 2011, when protests erupted. Since then, the Syrian civil conflict has become increasingly violent. About 70,000 people have died in the country’s civil war over the past two years. Millions of people have been displaced, both internally and abroad. For months regional and Western capitals have officially held back on arming the rebels, in part out of fear that the weapons would fall into the hands of terrorists.

Now however U.S. has begun to support arms delivery to Syrian opposition with recycling its old practice in Balkans. Multiple planeloads (some estimates are up to 160 cargo-planes, 3,500 tn) of weapons have left Croatia since December 2012, when many Yugoslav weapons, previously unseen in the Syrian civil war, began to appear in videos posted by rebels on YouTube. Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and quietly funneled them to anti-government fighters in Syria. American intelligence officers have helped the shipment with their earlier practice during Balkan wars. Earlier compared with the heavy weaponry employed by the Syrian regime, most of the equipment of Free Syrian Army (FSA) has been light so now the game is changing.

In Syria, a recoilless gun from the former Yugoslavia. Photo credit The NYT

Some foreign arms have been making their way to the Syrian opposition; the vast majority of guns were bought right from the regime – corrupt regime officials sold them. Another portion of their weapons was bought off the black market from Turkey or Jordan, which made them very expensive.

The opposition began as a secular struggle to overthrow the Assad regime. But many of the loosely linked brigades fighting the Assad regime have incorporated Islamist aims into their mission. These groups range from moderately Islamist outfits such as Liwaa al-Tawhid to more conservative groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, whose members have called for the countrywide implementation of Shariah, or Islamic law. There are also jihadist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), which operates as an extension of al Qaeda’s Iraqi franchise and has been declared a terrorist organization by the U.S. JAN boasts foreign connections and members with years of fighting experience, making them invaluable to the uprising.

The M79 Osa, an anti-tank weapon of Yugoslav origin, seized from Syria’s opposition.

Officially besides about $385 million in humanitarian aid has been disbursed by the U.S., there is an additional $115 million in nonlethal support for the fighters. On the other hand U.S. (unofficial) decision to send in more weapons is aimed at another fear in the West about the role of jihadist groups in the opposition. Such groups have been seen as better equipped than many nationalist fighters and potentially more influential. U.S. is covertly working to get those weapons into the right hands. Western officials agree that helping Syrian rebels defeat the brutal Assad regime is a worthwhile cause, but recent reports suggest some of that assistance has already benefited jihadist groups – e.g. JAN fighters have been using weapons originating in Croatia. (Sources: NYT , IBT , Debkafile)

Weapons from Croatia

A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3,500 tons of military equipment” (Hugh Griffiths, SIPRI, who monitors illicit arms transfers)

Persian Gulf states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been orchestrating weapons shipments into the conflict for months. Weapons from the former Yugoslavia were spotted in Syria this winter, after a series of military cargo flights from Zagreb to Amman. The arms are typically sent to Turkey and shipped into Syria via ground transport. The airlift, which began on a small scale in early 2012 and continued intermittently through last fall, expanded into a steady and much heavier flow late last year, the data shows. It has grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes landing at Esenboga Airport near Ankara, and, to a lesser degree, at other Turkish and Jordanian airports. Also from Jordan and Turkey, trucks take the weapons to the border with Syria.

The anti-Assad front is not like-minded: Riyadh – and Prince Bandar in particular – accuses the Qataris of conspiring to bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Damascus, including radical groups tied to Al Qaeda. Qatari Prime Minister and Secret Service Chief Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem has shot back with the charge that Saudi Arabia is maneuvering for control of the Syrian rebel movement.

The below video posted by the jihadist group Ahrar al-Sham, a collection of various smaller groups based in the north of Syria, mainly around Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama, and not part of the Free Syrian Army, demonstrates that the Yugoslavian weapons – supplied via Croatia – being provided to FSA have now begun to reach the hands of jihadists. These include RBG-6 40mm grenade launcher , the M79 Osa rocket launcher, M79 rocket pods, Yugoslav-made recoilless gun, as well as other assault rifles, grenade launchers, machine guns, mortars and shoulder-fired rockets for use against tanks and armored vehicles.

Youtube video

One should add that Croatia’s Foreign Ministry and arms-export agency has denied that such shipments had occurred. Croatia, poised this year to join the European Union, now strictly adheres to international rules on arms transfers. However, export figures obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) show that last December, Jordan suddenly began buying Croatian weapons.

MLRS in Syria too?

On March 2013 Syrian rebels in Aleppo have begun receiving their first heavy weapons – 220-mm MLRS rocket launchers – from a large-scale supply operation headed by Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan. According Debkafile in Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, his agents produced snapped up Russian-made MLRS (Smerch) and Hurricane 9K57 launchers capable of firing scores of 220-mm rockets to a distance of 70 kilometers.

I have some doubts how this Russian made MLRS has came from Croatia. First only one source (Debkafile) indicates so, second I don’t have any confirmation that this system was for sale in Balkans, third some youtube videos from Syria which I have seen about this MLRS are so unclear that the question could be about some similar type of MLRS.

Image shows a M60 recoilless gun (YU) being used to attack an army outpost,Hajez Barad, in Busr al-Harir, Daraa, on March 2nd.

The Saudi operation for shipping heavy rocket launchers from the Balkans to Aleppo is complicated. The rockets are fixed to vehicles weighing 43.7 tons each. The rockets themselves are 7.6 meters long and weigh 800 kilograms. To arrange the transfer of this heavy artillery to the rebels in Aleppo, Prince Bandar contacted Hakan Fidan, head of the MIT-Turkish National Intelligence Organization. They agreed to set up an overland route from the Balkans via Turkey and across the Syrian border to Aleppo, under the protection of the Turkish army.

It may be that Syrian rebels have now also the BM-30 Smerch (tornado), the most powerful multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) in the world. It was developed in the early 1980s and was accepted to service with the Soviet Army in 1987. It is also in service with Belarus and the Ukraine, and has been exported to Kuwait (27 systems) and Algeria (18 systems).India placed an order for an initial 38 systems. Deliveries began in May 2007.

The heavy MLRS rocket launcher in Syrian rebel hands

Former Yugoslavia had three types of MLRS: M 63 Plamen(32 /128),M 77 Ogan(32/128) and M 87 Orkan(12/262) which was produced in cooperation with Iraq and army of Iraq used this system. The M87 Orkan (hurricane) is a MLRS, jointly developed by Yugoslavia and Iraq. Most of development was made in Yugoslavia and some manufacturing took place in Iraq. It was first publicly revealed in 1988 during defense exhibition in Iraq, labeled as the Ababil-50. The Orkan MLRS project was finished in the early 1990s due to collapse of the Yugoslavia and it is estimated that only few system were built. The most modern – 2011 – MLRS in Balkans is LRSVM, which is a modular self-propelled multitube rocket launch system developed by Serbia-based Vazduhoplovno Tehnicki Institut (VTI). Also Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Defense Technologies (EDT) has developed, manufactured and delivered the first unit of the MLRS, which was designed and manufactured locally in UAE but in collaboration with a leading Serbian defence contractor. Perhaps some of these are now in operation theatre.

M87 Organ (YU)

Aleppo is the key to win

The Saudi operation for shipping heavy rocket launchers from the Balkans to Aleppo is complicated. The rockets are fixed to vehicles weighing 43.7 tons each. The rockets themselves are 7.6 meters long and weigh 800 kilograms. To arrange the transfer of this heavy artillery to the rebels in Aleppo, Prince Bandar contacted Hakan Fidan, head of the MIT-Turkish National Intelligence Organization. They agreed to set up an overland route from the Balkans via Turkey and across the Syrian border to Aleppo, under the protection of the Turkish army.

On the other hand Russia brings down its cargo planes loaded with weapons and replacement parts for the Syrian army at Nairab air base attached to Aleppo’s international air port, after the air facilities around Damascus were targeted by rebel fire. Recently Russian and Iranian arms lifts to Nairab were doubled, after rebels seized many Alawite villages in the Aleppo and Idlib regions of northern Syria.

The Saudis hope to expedite the rebel capture of the big Syrian Nairab air base attached to Aleppo’s international air port. The Saudi prince has personally taken the Nairab battle under his wing, convinced that it is the key to the conquest of Aleppo, once Syria’s national commercial and population center, after more than a year’s impasse in the battle for its control. The fall of this air base would also substantially reduce the big Iranian and Russian airlifts to Assad’s army. Moscow has since warned the rebels that if they attack incoming or outgoing Russian planes at Nairab, Russian special forces will come in to wipe out their strength around the base and take over its protection themselves.

U.S., Croatia and common history of clandestine operations

It is not surprising that U.S. is using Croatia for its clandestine operations. Radical Islam has enforced and widened their activities in Balkans last 15 years. During Bosnian war many foreign Islamists came to fight in mujahedeen brigade also many Al Quida figures – including Osama bin Laden – were supporting Bosnian Muslims 1990’s. US took the side with these “freedom fighters” in Bosnia and later in Kosovo. US involvement in the Balkans is not about helping any of the people in the region — Muslims, Croats, Serbs, or Albanians. The only interest of the Pentagon is in creating weak, dependent puppet regimes in order to dominate the entire region economically and politically.

In the 1980s Washington’s secret services had assisted Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. Then, in 1990, the US fought him in the Gulf. n both Afghanistan and the Gulf, the Pentagon had incurred debts to Islamist groups and their Middle Eastern sponsors. By 93 these groups, many supported by Iran and Saudi Arabia, were anxious to help Bosnian Muslims fighting in the former Yugoslavia and called in their debts with the Americans. Bill Clinton and the Pentagon were keen to be seen as creditworthy and repaid in the form of an Iran-Contra style operation – in flagrant violation of the UN Security Council arms embargo against all combatants in the former Yugoslavia. One could add that Ayman al-Zawahiri, later the leader of al Qaeda, came to America to raise funds in Silicon Valley for Bosnian jihadists.in 1993, Mr. bin Laden had appointed Sheik Ayman Al-Zawahiri, to direct his operations in the Balkans.

The recent history of this issue in Balkans started in June 1993, when President Clinton received the head of the Saudi Arabian intelligence service, Prince Turki al Faisal – a close adviser to his uncle, the King. The Prince urged Clinton to take the lead in the military assistance to Bosnia. The American administration did not dare to do so: the fear of a rift within NATO was too great. However, the United States did consider the Saudi Arabian signal to be important, and therefore a new strategy was elaborated. Its architect was to be Richard Holbrooke, who started to look for a way to arm the Bosnian Muslims. In the summer of 1993, the Pentagon was said to have drawn up a plan for arms assistance to the Bosnian Muslim Army (ABiH), which included supplies of AK-47s and other small arms. This operation was to demand almost three hundred C-130 Hercules transport aircraft flights.The first consignment from Iran landed in Zagreb on 4 May 1994, with sixty tons of explosives and military equipment on board. The arms were transported in Croatian army trucks along the Adriatic coast to Bosnia. Because the supplies attracted too much attention at Pleso Airport in Zagreb, the flights subsequently went mainly to the Croatian island of Krk. Shortly after Iranian cargo aircraft had landed there, a number of Croatian helicopters arrived to continue transporting the load after dusk.

Besides weapons the arrival in the Balkans of the so-called Afghan Arabs, who are from various Middle Eastern states and linked to al-Qaeda, began in 1992 – mujahedeen fighters who travelled to Afghanistan to resist the Soviet occupation in the 1980s later migrated to Bosnia hoping to assist their Islamic brethren in a struggle against Serbian Croatian forces.

In the summer and autumn of 1994 plans were elaborated for training the ABiH. An US ‘mercenary outfit’ was to arrange this training. This was carried out by Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI), a company based in Virginia that employed various retired American generals and intelligence officials. With the consent of the State Department, MPRI trained the Hrvatska Vojska (HV, the Croatian Army) and later also the ABiH. MPRI’s role arose from the signing of the agreement between the United States and Croatia on military collaboration. By engaging MPRI, Washington also reduced the danger of ‘direct’ involvement. The CIA settled on 14,000 tons between May 1994 and December 1996. According to the State Department from May 1994 to January 1996 Iran delivered a total of 5000 tons of arms and ammunition via the Croatian pipeline to Bosnia. (Source Bill Clinton’s Bastard Army by Ares Demertzis ,Feb. 2009 in New English Review)

Links between drug trafficking and the supply of arms to the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) were established also mid-90s. In West KLA was described as terrorist organization but when US selected them as their ally it transformed organization officially to “freedom” fighters. After bombing Serbia 1999 KLA leaders again changed their crime clans officially to political parties. This public image however can not hide the origins of money and power, old channels and connections are still in place in conservative tribe society. (More e.g in Quadruple Helix – Capturing Kosovo )

The pattern of U.S. collaboration with Muslim fundamentalists against more secular enemies is not new.In both cases all sides committed atrocities, and American intervention in fact favored the side allied with al-Qaeda. Similarly the cause of intervention was fostered by blatant manipulation and falsification of the facts.

Assad is not the only war criminal

Reports of a chemical weapon attack in Syria’s Aleppo Province end of March 2013 provoked leaders and politicians, particularly in the West, to advocate more fiercely for the overthrow of the Assad regime, despite the vague details surrounding the attack. Current data seem to suggest, however, that it was not government forces behind the attack, but rebel forces.The attack, intelligence sources appear to agree, was launched by rebel fighters and not government forces. Since the victims were overwhelmingly the Syrian military, this was not a huge shock, but is important to reiterate. Likewise, the Assad forces called upon the United Nations to launch an investigation into the attack.

Last October, the rebel forces were responsible for four suicide bombings in Aleppo that killed approximately 40 civilians and wounded many more. Jebhat al-Nusra, a group linked to al-Qaeda, has taken credit for the bombings. Additionally, the rebels were also responsible for the massacre of over 90 people in Houla last year. Immediately following that event, the U.S., France, Great Britain, and Germany blamed Assad for the killings and expelled Syria’s ambassadors from their countries in protest. Later reports, however, pointed to evidence that the massacre was in fact carried out by anti-Assad rebel forces.

From the other side Iranian supplies are what keep Assad’s army functioning and his regime in Damascus and other Syrian towns able to survive the rebellion. Iraqi Al Qaeda is also preparing to push trucks loaded with Chlorine gas-CI trucks into Syria for the jihadists to use against Assad’s forces. U.S. has been unable to persuade Iraq cut short the Iranian airlift and land route through his country to Bashar Assad of weapons, fighters and cash.

From my point of view it remains to see if this newest U.S. clandestine recycling operation has better success that earlier in Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya … I doubt.

P.S.

Some sense of proportion should be applied with different conflicts:

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