CATF Reports May 4, 2016, 2:14pm


When, early last month, opposition activists started to post social media images showing rebels carrying an SA-7 Strela anti-aircraft missile, SANA (the Syrian state news agency) confirmed that “a warplane was struck by a surface-to-air missile launched by the terrorist organizations while it was on a reconnaissance mission.” In April only, Syrian rebel forces allegedly brought down two Syrian jets and one Russian helicopter, a record that sparked rumors that the rebels had finally put their hands on the shoulder-fire missiles known as MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems) which they have long requested from their Western supporters.

As Russian airstrikes become more frequent in rebel-held areas, the urgency of the rebels’ request has increased exponentially. The New York Times wrote in 2013 that small shipments were initially delivered to the rebels under the Free Syrian Army umbrella by Qatar, while a previous shipment had come from stockpiles owned by the Qaddafi regime. The U.S.’s reluctance to provide more anti-aircraft missiles has been justified so far by concerns that heavier weapons could be seized by extremists and terrorists – concerns that the CIA is prepared to dismiss should the cease-fire efforts collapse.

From Los Angeles Times:

“The rebels have largely countered airstrikes with “flak traps,” a World-War II-era tactic utilizing multiple machine-gun platforms placed along the path of jets or helicopters on bombing runs. In March, rebels affiliated with the Western-backed Jaish al-Nasr faction [Army of Victory] shot down a Syrian MIG-21 near the village of Kafr Nabudah, 25 miles northwest of the city of Hama, with the combined firepower of 10 machine guns, according to Mohammad Rashid, the spokesman of the group.

The opposition is not expecting that the West will change its mind about supplying them with weapons to fend off the mounting airstrikes. “We do not expect any of the rumors [of being armed by the West] to come true,” Major Bilal Al-Harba, a spokesman for the opposition’s Homs Liberation faction, said in an interview on social media. “If we get anything it will be from the regime, whether through fighting or by getting it from soldiers we bribe and who cooperate with us.” […]

New Russian technology could soon render MANPADS useless even against low-flying aircraft. New air units are being equipped with the President-1, a device that interferes with MANPADS’ guidance systems, Russian state news agency TASS reported, claiming that the effectiveness of this system was “successfully demonstrated during the fighting for … Palmyra,” the ancient city that was recently wrested from the hands of the extremist group the Islamic State.

At the same time, technological improvements that could limit the risk of extremists making use of U.S. MANPADS are still very flawed.”

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