first published on April 19, 2016 by Will
An interesting development in Syria may bring in a new phase of the war as anti Assad rebel groups are now being armed with surface to air man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS). A recent video has surfaced showing the Homs Liberation Movement branch of the Free Syrian Army showing off recently acquired Chinese-made FN-6 heat-seeking missiles.
The U.S. and Arab Gulf states have been frustrated with the gains made by Syrian government forces, backed by Russian air support. The U.S. had been wary of supplying anti aircraft missiles to the rebel groups for fear of disastrous consequences through the escalation of force with the Russian military. Back in October, the U.S. said it would not be in support of giving MANPADS to rebels, but now it seems their tune has changed.
The decision to use the Chinese FN-6 may have been a calculated one. The FN-6 is specifically designed to engage low flying targets. Therefore, Russia could still avoid the weapon by flying higher, but at the cost of having to use more expensive, precision-guided munitions. The Syrian Air Force relies heavily on cheaper dumb bombs that must be dropped from much lower altitudes, and therefore, would be the main target of the rebels. The presence of the missiles could also freeze helicopter use by both the Syrian and Russian militaries.
Recently, Ahrar al-Sham, a zealous jihad group, used what was suspected to be an FN-6 to shoot down a Syrian war plane. The copilot was killed and the other was captured by al Nusra but turned over to Ahrar al-Sham. The group is known to be supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
While the Homs Liberation Movement is supposedly a “moderate” group, they often work with al Nusra and other hardline groups in offensives against government forces. In the past, the FSA has been raided by Nusra as well, having their weapons, including ATGMs, plundered by the jihadists. The idea that these groups are being given weapons that terrorist have wet-dreams about is concerning to the rest of the world. The near-sightedness of this move is just one more pending foreign policy disaster for the current administration. Some of these weapons will go missing and, at some point, will resurface where least expected.