Turkey has sent the Syrian rebels fighting in Aleppo their first shipment of shoulder-carried, anti-air FIM-92 Stingers, debkafile’s military sources report. More are on the way to insurgent groups battling government forces around Damascus and other parts of Syria.
In Istanbul, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks Saturday, Aug. 11, with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian opposition figures, after which she announced US and Turkish intelligence services and military would set up a joint working team to plan for “many contingencies including the very horrible scenario of the use of chemical weapons.”
debkafile’s US, Turkish and Israeli intelligence sources are taking into account that Bashar Assad will view the supply of Stingers to the rebels as a game changer that threatens to tip the balance of the war against him and respond with chemical warfare against the rebels, Turkey, Israel and Jordan.
In consideration of this menace, France last week flew a medical field hospital specializing in treating chemical poisoning from its medical base at Istres to northern Jordan and set it up close to the Syrian border.
Our sources also disclose that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's decision to put Stingers in Syrian rebel hands came after Assad’s forces shot down a Turkish Air Force F-4 with Russian-made Pantsyr-1 air defense missiles over Latakia on June 22.
He was also paying Bashar Assad back for allowing Turkish Kurdish rebel PKK forces to transfer 2,500 fighters to the Syrian-Turkish border.
Turkey manufactures the Stingers under American license and is obliged by contract to obtain US permission for their transfer to a third party. It was granted by Washington on the quiet. This made it possible for Ankara to supply the rebel Syrian Free Army with the weapon needed to shoot down government assault helicopters, while the Obama administration continued to assert that America was providing the revolt with nothing more than “nonlethal assistance.”
By the same token, British Foreign Secretary William Hague was able to claim Friday, Aug. 10, that his government had granted Syrian rebels $8 million of “non-military support.”
Our military sources report that Washington and Ankara briefed Britain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the Stingers delivery after the oil states offered to fund them and also pay for the courses run by American, British and Turkish instructors for training the rebels in their use.
Washington is taking care to keep control over the Stingers’ supplies and make sure they reach the right hands and are used in the right measure.
While the Obama administration wants to see the back of Bashar Assad and his clique, it has no wish to see rebel tactics powerful enough to break the back of the Syrian army and air force, because that would plunge the country into unbridled civil strife and chaos for years to come. The US wants the army preserved as a cohesive operational entity, capable of safeguarding an alternative administration when it takes Assad’s place in Damascus or possibly Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and its commercial hub.
To defeat Assad’s military offensive, debkafile’s military sources estimate the rebels will need 300-400 Stingers. They have received the first 20-30 for tipping the scales of battle in Aleppo. The next shipment will most likely help them assert control over a “corridor” from Aleppo to the Turkish border as a potential future safe haven, another topic highlighted in Clinton’s talks in Istanbul.
Asked about this after those talks, she said it was a possible option.
The missiles are therefore being handed out in careful doses. At the same time, our military sources report that the rebels using the Stingers in Aleppo against Syrian gunships and fighter jets since Tuesday, Aug. 7, have not managed to hit anything. There may be two possible reasons for their consistent misses:
1. Inexperience: They may need more instruction and practice;
2. Assad’s air force may have been equipped by Moscow with decoy devices developed by the Russian arms industry for muddling the American Stingers.
The Stinger is a heat-seeking missile, which sticks to its target in all conditions. The microprocessor in its warhead is designed to ignore decoys and hold it on course. It should take no more than a few days to determine whether the Russians have developed new countermeasures to defeat the Stinger and given them to the Damascus.
The Russians have a long score to settle with the Stinger. It was the weapon in the hands of American-backed Muslim forces in Afghanistan which more than any other forced the Red Army to quit the country in 1985 by knocking out the Russian troops’ air cover.