While the rebels remained badly outgunned, the recently seized weapons caches could provide at least a partial answer to new supplies of tanks, aircraft and artillery acquired by the Iran- and Russia-backed government of Bashar al-Assad, U.S. and Middle Eastern analysts say.
During an early-August raid on an army depot in a Damascus suburb, rebel militias acquired hundreds of wire-guided anti-tank missiles, including French-made Milans and Russian Konkurs, analysts confirmed. Videos posted on YouTube showed gleeful rebels hauling away boxes of missiles as well as rocket-propelled grenades. Weapons experts say the highly accurate missiles are capable of destroying any tank in the Syrian military’s inventory.
Within days of that event, a combined force of Islamist and Free Syrian Army rebel units succeeded in overrunning the defenders of the Menagh air base after crashing though the perimeter wall with an armored personnel carrier packed with explosives.
An inventory of seized weapons from the airfield, pieced together by intelligence officials and independent military analysts, includes the equivalent of an armored company’s contingent of T-72 tanks and BMP-1s, Russian-built amphibious fighting vehicles armed with an anti-tank gun and a heavy machine gun. Also seized was at least one 57mm antiaircraft gun and crate after crate of machine guns, grenade launchers and assault rifles, many of them new and in their original packing, the analysts said.
Videos posted on YouTube showed rebel soldiers in camouflage uniforms digging through green boxes filled with missile launchers, artillery shells and ammunition. One rebel commander who participated in the fight played down the overall significance of the cache and declined to give numbers of weapons seized. But he said the fighters were making good use of the materiel.
“It will be distributed between all the different groups that joined in liberating the airport,” said Col. Abdul Jabbar Akaidi, head of the rebel military council in Aleppo.
Loveday Morris and Ahmed Ramadan, both in Beirut, contributed to this report.