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First Documented Use of US Anti-Tank Weapons by Syrian Rebels

Experts say footage of BGM-71 TOW anti-tank rocket used by moderate rebel groups significant, but not a game-changer.
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 4/16/2014, 2:57 PM

The first footage of Syrian rebels using advanced US-made anti-tank weaponry has emerged, in what some experts say represents an important, though not necessarily game-changing development.

Rebels from Harakat Hazm, a "moderate" and relatively secular rebel group, can be seen firing a BGM-71 TOW anti-tank rocket in the video, dated April 15.

Other videos have featured the rockets in the hands of the Syrian Revolutionary Front and another rebel brigade called Awliya wa Katalib al-Shaheed Ahmed al-Abdo. Both are generally seen as moderate, although concerns have been raised over the SRF's cooperation with Al Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front.

It is unclear whether the weaponry was supplied by Washington or by a US ally such as Saudi Arabia, possibly with American approval.

According to Reuters, although only a small number of uses of American-made rockets have been documented, they are becoming increasingly visible on the ground.

"With U.S.-made TOW anti-tank missiles now seen in the hands of three groups in the north and south of Syria, it is safe to say this is important," said Charles Lister, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution Doha Centre and one of the first to identify the weapons.

The US and other western allies have been largely hesitant to provide military aid to rebel groups, fearing that some of the weaponry could end up in the hands of Al Qaeda-linked groups - much to the frustration of rebel-backers Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Analysts have said the limited injection of US-made anti-tank weaponry, though significant, would not alter the shape of the battlefield in war-torn Syria. Regime forces recently retook the Christian town of Maaloula, and have been making gains in other areas as well.

Rebels still largely control northern and eastern Syria, with the regime in control of central cities and much of the west.

Both regime and rebel forces have made considerable use of foreign arms, with Assad's forces boasting ever-more advanced Russian arms and rebels using Chinese and other weapons supplied primarily by Gulf backers.