JERUSALEM – On Wednesday, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) and 25 other members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to President Obama stating their opposition to the transfer of man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADs, to the Syrian rebels.
The lawmakers warned MANPAD proliferation to the Syrian rebels would represent a “serious threat to civilian airliners in the region — including Israeli airliners — and across the world.”
The letter was in direct response to a Wall Street Journal article last month reporting on CIA plans to possibly arm moderate Syrian rebels with more advanced weaponry if the truce in Syria continues to deteriorate and full-scale fighting resumes.
The article cited U.S. and other officials divulging that the CIA was preparing for a so-called Plan B to counter Russia and Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. The plan, the newspaper reported, calls for “vetted rebel units with weapons systems that would help them in directing attacks against Syrian regime aircraft and artillery positions.” That option was to be used only if the truce collapses and major fighting resumes.
The article did not state the CIA was considering providing MANPADS to Syrian rebels. It cited CIA fears that coalition partners like Turkey and Saudi Arabia could go behind the agency’s back and ship MANPADS to rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The letter to Obama, initiated by Conyers and Yoho, urged the president to “maintain your stance in opposition to sending MANPADS into Syria” and it requested that Obama “strongly discourage all nations from doing so.”
The letters warned that transferring MANPADS to combatants in Syria “would appear to violate at least three U.S.-backed international agreements,” including:
- The U.S.-initiated G8 Action Plan;
- The Wassenaar Arrangement on Arms Control in 2003;
- And a 2005 Organization of American States resolution.
The lawmakers expressed concern that weapons provided to moderate Syrian rebels could in turn be transferred to al-Qaida-linked terrorist groups.
They noted such worries were “validated when the Pentagon confirmed that last September, Syrian rebels vetted and trained by the United States handed over their equipment to the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.”
Continued the letter:
The rebels surrendered six pick-up trucks and ammunition—amounting to about one-quarter of their issued equipment—to an agent of the Nusra Front. And just last month, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria attacked a Western-backed rebel faction, taking over bases and seizing U.S.-supplied weapons including antitank missiles. These are just a few examples of the repeated instances of terrorist organizations operating inside Syria acquiring U.S.-supplied weapons from rebels that have been vetted by the Pentagon or CIA.
Last month’s Journal article, meanwhile, revealed the CIA believes that Mideast rebels have already obtained MANPADs, and the agency fears the weaponry could be acquired by terrorist groups and utilized against civilian aircraft.
This significant detail was contained in the 13th paragraph of the larger Wall Street Journal article reporting on CIA plans to possibly arm moderate Syrian rebels with more advanced weaponry if the truce in Syria continues to deteriorate and full-scale fighting resumes.
The Journal reported:
To coalition partners including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the CIA has twinned assurances that the U.S. will allow the anti-Assad coalition to supply more weapons with warnings that they would be mistaken to go behind Washington’s back to provide weapons systems that Mr. Obama has decided so far not to introduce to the battlefield.
The agency’s principal concern focuses on man-portable air-defense systems, known as Manpads. The CIA believes that rebels have obtained a small number of Manpads through illicit channels. Fearing these systems could fall into terrorists’ hands for use against civilian aircraft, the spy agency’s goal now is to prevent more of them from slipping uncontrollably into the war zone, according to U.S. and intelligence officials in the region.
It is widely understood that some Syrian rebel elements have already obtained and deployed MANPADs.
Last month, a Syrian jet was reportedly shot down by rebels utilizing an antiaircraft missile. The event marks the second time the Syrian government said it was attacked in recent weeks by rebels deploying antiaircraft missiles. The Syrian military in March said one of its warplanes was shot down in western Syria that month.
Upon the downing of the Syrian jet last month, this reporter raised questions about how the Mideast rebels may have obtained MANPADs.
Did NATO-member Turkey, already in hot water for brazenly shooting down a Russian warplane, pass antiaircraft missiles to rebels as part of Ankara’s obsessive bid to counter the Syria-Russia axis? Turkey, concerned by Syria’s recent gains against the Islamic State and other rebel forces, is known to be one of the main suppliers of more extremist elements among the anti-Assad rebels.
There is also the possibility that antiaircraft weapons were obtained by Syrian rebels from elements that looted Moammar Gadhafi’s reserves of of MANPADS. The largest terrorist looting of MANPADS took place immediately after the 2001 U.S.-NATO military campaign, strongly pushed by Hillary Clinton, that toppled Gadhafi’s regime in Libya.
NATO failed to immediately protect the reserves of MANPADS.
As I reported at the time:
Gadhafi had hoarded Africa’s biggest-known reserve of MANPADS, with a stock said to number between 15,000 and 20,000. Many of the missiles were stolen by militias fighting in Libya, including those backed by the U.S. in their anti-Gadhafi efforts. There were reports of a Western effort to secure the MANPADS, including collecting some from rebels in Libya.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.