The average unit of 500 or so rebels in southern Syria is equipped with light arms, such as AK-47s, mortars, grenades and a handful of antiquated rocket-propelled grenade launchers that have the firepower to blow up an ordinary car but not an armored vehicle, Golani said.
He and other rebel commanders said they have not received arms or other military support from Western powers or Arab states. Instead, they have pilfered weapons from Assad’s forces, purchased them from regional arms dealers or bought them under the table from Syrian army sources.
In contrast, they said, more-radical Islamist units have gotten private shipments of light and heavy arms from wealthy donors in the Middle East via Turkey.
Mohammed al-Zoubi, one of dozens of seasoned smugglers in the Jordanian border city of Ramtha, said ordinary pickup trucks and open borders could facilitate the supply of thousands of rockets to rebel fighters in the southern Syrian city of Daraa — as soon as they get the green light and the weapon shipments.
“If they open the borders, Jordan could be the weapons entry point for all of Syria,” Zoubi, 45, said, adding that gunrunning into Syria has been all but “stamped out” because of tight security along the border.
Because of their inability to feed or equip fighters, rebel officials said, they are rapidly losing ground to well-funded Islamist militias such as Jabhat al-Nusra.
A Syrian Free Army commander who defected from Assad’s army and is a self-proclaimed moderate said 150 of his men deserted last month and tried to join an Islamist militia because they were fed up with poor food, limited fuel and inadequate weapons.
The rebel leaders said help cannot come too soon.
“Our forces are not just demoralized. There is something new. There is a fear,” said Abu Abdullah al-Saeed, a former Syrian air force brigadier general from the town of Douma, outside Damascus. Saeed defected to Jordan in August and heads the Supreme Military Council’s operations to establish a Free Syrian Army air force.
Karen DeYoung in Kuwait contributed to this report.