Terrorists In Syria Have MANPADs But Who Did They Get Them From?

By Brandon Turbeville

A Russian jet fighter pilot was killed on Friday while operating over the town of Massran in Idlib province in Syria. The Sukhoi-25 plane had apparently lowered its altitude while on mission and was struck by fighters belonging to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). The pilot ejected but, once on the ground, was killed with HTS taking credit for his death. However, the Russian Defense Ministry released a statement claiming that the soldier had detonated a grenade in order to avoid being captured by the notoriously cruel and savage “rebels” supported by the United States.

The pilot, Roman Filipov, was posthumously awarded the Hero of Russia medal.

According to the Russian MOD, his last words were “Here’s for the guys.”

While the event itself was relatively straightforward, the questions that now arise center around how HTS came into the possession of MANPADs to begin with.

A number of Russian lawmakers believe they already know the answer. Indeed, several are pointing the finger at the United States. As RT reports,

Russian lawmakers have called for a thorough investigation on the origins of the man-portable missile launcher that was likely used by militants in Syria to shoot down a Russian fighter jet before killing the pilot in a firefight.

“Certainly, we will investigate, including a great many things: from the type of the MANPADS [man-portable air defense system] to the circumstances of the Su-25 downing,” Frants Klintsevich, First Deputy chair of Russia’s Federal Council Defense Committee, told Interfax.

He hopes that evidence will be available due to the “abundance of UAVs and space surveillance in the area.”

As far as military losses go, “the loss of one aircraft is nothing, but politically it has great significance and far-reaching consequences,”Klintsevich said. Other lawmakers are concerned about how the militants could have acquired the anti-aircraft weapon. “We have information that the MANPADS used to bring down our jet was brought into Syria from a neighboring country several days ago,” MP Dmitry Sablin, coordinator of the Russia-Syria parliamentary friendship group, told Interfax. “Countries from whose territory weapons arrive, that are then used against Russian servicemen, must understand that whis will not go unpunished,” he added.

Deputy Head of the State Duma Defense Committee, Yury Shvytkin, told RIA he is inclined to believe that the “MANPADS’ origins are linked with Western countries.”

The American government, of course, has denied that the U.S. has provided terrorists with MANPADs.

“The United States has never provided MANPAD missiles to any group in Syria, and we are deeply concerned that such weapons are being used,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

The solution to the violence is a return to the Geneva process as soon as possible and we call on Russia to live up to its commitments in that regard.

However, beyond being the most likely suspect, there is evidence (although admittedly lack of concrete proof) that does indeed incriminate the U.S. in shipping MANPADs to terrorists in Syria.

Fighters in the Free Syrian Army have been known to possess MANPADs for some time, with one FSA fighter even being seen in January with a Russian-made MANPAD. FSA is one of the oldest terrorist groups operating in Syria that has been supported by the United States, Turkey, and the GCC as well as other European members of the “coalition.”

The question is whether these fighters have come across MANPADs as a result of plundering Syrian military bases they managed to seize or whether they have been provided these weapons by their Western patrons.

This has been a question since as far back as 2012. For instance, the Guardian, in its article by Julian Borger and entitled, “Arms and the MANPADs: Syrian Rebels Get Anti-Aircraft Missiles,” it was reported on November 28:

Just as the clamour for supplying the Syrian opposition with sophisticated new weapons looked to be reaching a tipping point in the Gulf and the west, the rebels have clearly got hold of some arms of their own.

A video of a government gunship being brought down by a missile outside Aleppo, a first for the rebels, emerged at the same time as European diplomats agreed to change the terms of the EU arms embargo on Syria. From Saturday, it will be rolled over for only three months, signalling to President Bashar al-Assad that weapons deliveries to the rebels could start at short notice if the aerial bombardment of rebel-held areas continues.

. . . . .

The warning came as the rebels’ principal backers, in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been chafing ever more loudly against the US veto on supplies of sophisticated, potentially decisive weapons such as shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles (widely known as Manpads – an acronym for man-portable air-defence systems) to the rebels.

The US veto was motivated principally by the fear of such a weapon falling into the hands of a jihadist group that would then use it to bring down a civilian airliner, as al-Qaida tried to do with an Israeli plane in Mombasa in December 2002. Some in the Gulf states have argued that there are precautions that could be taken against such proliferation. But until now, they have stuck by the ban.

“We did this as a favour to Obama,” a Gulf source said. “But now Obama has been re-elected, there is a question of whether we should still be bound by such an undertaking.” Shoulder-launched missiles could be bought in Pakistan or in Africa, the source added.

So far, there is no evidence that any of the ground-to-air missiles used to date have come from outside Syria, according to Peter Bouckaert. Emergencies director for Human Rights Watch.

“Everything we have seen so far has been captured from Syrian army bases. We have kept a close watch on what has been coming out of Libya but we have seen no surface-to-air missiles from there used in Syria,” Bouckaert said.

Videos and witness accounts suggest that the rebels have seized SA-7 missiles, a Soviet-era weapon, and the later version, the SA-16. They have also shown off training versions of a state-of-the-art Russian-made SA-24, which like its predecessor uses heatseeking guidance systems.

Over the past 10 years, Damascus has tried to buy SA-24s from Russia but there has been no hard evidence it succeeded. The silver-coloured training versions spotted so far could have been demonstration models or part of a bigger package that may have included live missiles.

Matt Schroeder, of the Federation of American Scientists, said: “If so, that would be the first time we have seen the SA-24 in the hands of a non-state actor. Once weapons like this get outside the control of government, it is difficult to stop them spreading.”

Rebel acquisition of significant numbers of such missiles would neutralise the government’s air superiority and consolidate the rebel hold of a strip of northern Syria. It could prove to be a tipping point in the conflict, and a terrorist concern for years to come. According to one estimate, there are still 600 Stinger missiles, the US equivalent to the SA-7, unaccounted for from the CIA-backed mujahideen war against the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

“What is striking is that almost immediately, they were diverted,” Schroeder said. “Some were seized by the Soviets, and Stingers were acquired by the Iranians within a year.”

Experts are doubtful about some of the precautions suggested by the Gulf states. The argument that the battery eventually expires, thereby robbing the SA-7 of its guidance system, has been undermined by the experience in Libya, where decades-old weapons appeared to function perfectly. The idea of doling them out in small batches to trusted rebel commanders and only providing more once they have been accounted for, by the return of used missile-tubes for example, was tried unsuccessfully by the mujahideen’s Pakistani handlers in the 1980s.

“The problem is, once you set this genie out of the bag it is much harder to control,” Bouckaert says. “There are very grave risks. It is the number-one weapon on the terrorist shopping list.”

It is important to note that, while the mainstream media and Western governments deny having provided the terrorists with MANPADs, claiming that they must have acquired them from seized Syrian military bases, the article itself admits that there is no evidence that the Syrian military was ever able to acquire the weapons seen in the hands of the terrorists.

Despite public resistance to providing MANPADs to terrorists in Syria by the Obama administration, the U.S. Congress authorized providing the weapons in 2017 (signed into law in 2016 by Barack Obama), the only condition being that the Secretaries of State and Defense provide a report to the Congress before doing so.

The report would have to disclose “intelligence findings” on the armed groups before providing them with weapons. However, one need only look back to America’s “extreme vetting” of Noureddine al-Zengi, the terrorist group that beheaded 12-year-old Abdullah Issa in order to see that even the most extreme extremists are not considered off the table for American arms. Indeed, the FSA are identical to Nusra and ISIS in every way though the U.S. has continued to support, arm, train, and direct them. In other words, “vetting” and providing “intelligence findings” means absolutely nothing in the real world, especially when the Congress being briefed is perhaps the most bloodthirsty Congress in American history.

“Washington has placed its bets on supplying military aid to anti-government forces who don’t differ than much from bloodthirsty head choppers. Now, the possibility of supplying them with weapons, including mobile anti-aircraft complexes, has been written into this new bill,” said Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a response to the new bill’s signing, reiterating that Russia viewed this move as a hostile act since MANPADs could be used against Russian planes.

Western-backed terrorists operating in Syria have long demanded MANPADs which would be, in their view, a game changer in fighting against Russian air power. Indeed, as Syria and Russia push further into Idlib, we are witnessing the last stand of America’s terrorists and a game changer is of great necessity if that game isn’t going to come to an end sooner rather than later.

According to Al-Masdar News, a reliable Lebanese outlet, Kurdish forces have indeed received MANPADs. On January 15, 2018, Al-Masdar reported,

Kurdish forces have received a shipment of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile systems (commonly abbreviated as MANPADS) from the United States per a backdoor agreement according to oppositions sources.

In what opposition sources are referring to as an ‘independent secret deal,’ the US has supplied Kurdish forces in the Afrin region of Syria’s Aleppo province with heat-seeking man-portable surface-to-air missiles.

The transfer of the sophisticated weapons systems by the US to Kurdish militias is claimed to have taken place some time last week.

Opposition reports say that the arms transfer is part of an exclusive agreement between the US and Kurdish forces, having been outside the authority of the collective decision-making apparatus of the anti-ISIS coalition.

If true, then the weapons are undoubtedly to be used to give Kurdish militias some kind of air defense capacity in the event of an attack against their forces throughout Afrin by Turkey-led rebel groups.

At this point, however, we have yet to see Kurds use those weapons against Turkey. However, it is also well known that the Kurds have worked hand in hand with a number of other terrorists groups such as ISIS and the FSA (both of whom also work with the United States and Turkey), thus raising the question of whether or not MANPADs shipped to Kurds have found their way to their temporary jihadist allies.

In addition, there remains the distinct possibility that the United States military or the intelligence community have been shipping MANPADs to terrorists without informing Congress, the President, or anyone else. After all, the United States had long been arming terrorists in Syria before it admitting doing so publicly. Thus it is not unreasonable to suspect that the country which initiated the conflict and armed the participants since day one continues to do so and, at the point where its proxy forces are the most imperiled, has decided to provide the fighters with more lethal and effective weapons.

It is also quite possible that the United States is shipping MANPADs to terrorists through a third party; i.e. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc. Indeed, it is not illegal to sell MANPADs to KSA or Turkey and what these countries do with them is considered their business. Thus, a weapons transfer to KSA could be complete and above board for both parties while KSA, which has been rather outspoken and open about its support for terrorist groups, could then turn around and sell the weapons to terrorists. The bad PR and all the subsequent rotten vegetables could then be thrown at KSA while the U.S. continues to rant and rave about its moral and political superiority.

The one thing that is for certain, however, is that the terrorists have MANPADs, even if the source is unclear. Indeed, in November, 2016, Middle East Eye reported on the sighting and bragging of terrorist fighters with the weapon systems. It reported,

A Syrian rebel group has paraded a cache of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, the first evidence of the weapons being supplied to opposition forces after an expected relaxing of US restrictions.

Members of the Ansar al-Islam Front were shown in a video posted on 20 November testing SA-7 Strela-2 missiles, although the weapons are not shown being fired.

The group said they had a “good number” of the weapons, which were being deployed among Ansar and Free Syrian Army forces to counter government aircraft in Daraa and Quneitra, to the south of the country.

The first fighter in the video can be heard saying: “We, in Ansar al-Islam Front, have distributed several points of air defence to counter any attempt by the Syrian warplanes or helicopters which bombs points in Quneitra province. We have good number of these missiles.”

A second fighter, named as “Abu Bilal” in the video, says: “We, in Ansar al-Islam Front and factions of the FSA, are distributing equipment and soldiers toward Tal al-Hara, Mashara, Sandaniya and Jabata. And in the coming days you will hear good news from Quneitra and its surroundings.

“There are a lot of preparations for ambushes and units deployed on the front lines. There are units of air defence, infantry elements and other several sets of our factions and the factions of the FSA in Quneitra and its surroundings.”

The supply of the missiles breaches a standing order from the US to prohibit their distribution in Syria. The US has feared the weapons could fall into the hands of groups such as the Islamic State or the Nusra Front and be used against American forces, their allies and civilian aviation.

However, a high-level rebel source told Middle East Eye in late September that the US was to clear the way for allied nations to begin supplying the weapons, as Russian and Syrian forces increased their attacks on rebel-held areas of the northern city of Aleppo.

“The US confirmed the green light to begin sending them to rebels through supply routes still open through Jordan and Turkey,” the source told MEE at the time. “Rebels are being told only to target Syrian helicopters, not Russian – but it’s not clear they will abide by this.”

The source told Middle East Eye that the US had confirmed it would allow Qatar and Saudi Arabia to begin shipments.

The Reuters news agency at the same time quoted anonymous US officials as saying the assault on Aleppo had “heightened” the possibility of the Obama administration lifting the ban.

However, there is no evidence of the missiles reaching Aleppo, where supply routes have been cut by a siege by Syrian government forces.

The Ansar al-Islam Front is reportedly among dozens of rebel groups that have in the past been supplied with US-made BGM-71 anti-tank missiles, with US approval and through Saudi channels.

It was recently named by the Brookings Institute as one of 76 FSA units that had been “vetted” by the CIA and supplied through military operations command centres in Jordan and/or Turkey.

At this point, there is no concrete evidence to point to the United States as the culprit behind providing the terrorists who shot down the Russian jet. However, the circumstantial evidence is damning to say the least. The United States has armed terrorists in Syria since before the crisis began in 2011 and it is entirely plausible to believe that the MANPADs being used against Russia today have been provided to fighters in Idlib by the United States or, at the very least, by its allies. It cannot be forgotten that American proponents of arming terrorists with these weapons have long seen them as “game changers” particularly to be used against Russia, and, as Syria and Russia close in on the last major terrorist stronghold, it may very well be that the decision has been made to allow terrorists access to those weapons to turn the tide yet again and/or to make Russia and Syria “bleed.”

Aside from the moral aspect, which is enough to condemn the program on its own right, any decision to provide terrorist organizations with MANPAD surface-to-air missiles is a disaster waiting to happen, not just for the Syrian people and the military forces operating on the ground, but for the entire world, including perhaps, America itself.

Brandon Turbeville writes for Activist Post – article archive here – He is the author of seven books, Codex Alimentarius — The End of Health Freedom, 7 Real Conspiracies, Five Sense Solutions and Dispatches From a Dissident, volume 1 and volume 2, The Road to Damascus: The Anglo-American Assault on Syria, The Difference it Makes: 36 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Should Never Be President, and Resisting The Empire: The Plan To Destroy Syria And How The Future Of The World Depends On The Outcome. Turbeville has published over 1000 articles on a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, government corruption, and civil liberties. Brandon Turbeville’s radio show Truth on The Tracks can be found every Monday night 9 pm EST at UCYTV. His website is BrandonTurbeville.com He is available for radio and TV interviews. Please contact activistpost (at) gmail.com.

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