Plan To Arm Syrian Rebels Undermined – Weapons Emerge On Syrian Black Market

Al Jazeera reports that weapons supplied by the CIA and Saudi Arabia for distribution among Syrian rebels have been steadily stolen by Jordanian Intelligence operatives and been made available on the black market. FBI officials believe that these weapons were used in the attack on a police training facility in Amman in November, when five people were gunned down. The investigation is still underway, but investigators believe the weapons used by Jordanian police captain, Anwar Abu Zaid to shoot the two Jordanians, two American contractors and one South African were stolen from a consignment meant for the Syrian rebel-training program, as indicated by the serial numbers of the weapons.

Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan, near Idlib, Syria. The training is part of an attempt to transform the rag-tag rebel groups into a disciplined fighting force. [Muhammed Muheisen/AP Photo]
The theft, amounting to millions of dollars, has now been made public following a joint investigation by Al Jazeera and The New York Times. It is a prime example of what could go wrong and the risks involved in attempting to arm and train rebels.

Jordanian officials said the operation was run by a group of GID logistics officers with direct access to the weapons when they landed in Jordan. They would take their share of the stocks before delivering the balance to the designated drop off points.

Where the stolen weapons, that include Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades have ended up is unsure, as there are a number of groups that would show interest in the purchase and distribution of weapons of this nature. Local criminal networks and rural Jordanian tribes support the arms bazaars to increase their arsenals, and smugglers buy the weapons to distribute in neighboring countries.

Jordan’s minister of state for media affairs, Mohammad H al-Momani, said that the claims that Jordanian intelligence officers were involved in the weapon theft were “absolutely incorrect,” weapons of our security institutions are concretely tracked, with the highest discipline.” He said the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), Jordan’s intelligence service, is “a world-class, reputable institution known for its professional conduct and high degree of cooperation among security agencies.” The Head of the GID ranks second only to the Jordanian King.

In a statement, John Kirby, the spokesman for the US State Department said: “The United States deeply values the long history of cooperation and friendship with Jordan, we are committed to the security of Jordan and to partnering closely with Jordan to meet common security challenges.”

The training program, code named Timber Sycamore, has been running since 2003 under the control of the CIA and a number of Arab intelligence services and is intended to build up and empower forces opposing the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) shakes hands with Shiite radical leader Moqtada Sadr at the Presidential Palace [Photo by SANA/Getty Images]
The main backers of the program are Saudi Arabia, contributing weapons and funds, and the CIA, offering training in the use of weaponry such as Kalashnikovs, mortars, and antitank guided missiles among others. U.S. officials say that thousands of rebels have been trained and that they had made considerable advances against the Syrian army until they were forced to withdraw by the Russian initiative backing Assad.

The program is based in Jordan as it is ideally situated with regards to the Syrian combat zone and the CIA and Arab agencies utilized the Jordan security services to transport the weapons, purchased largely in Eastern Europe.

The weapons theft and resulting investigation have been discussed by American and Jordanian officials on the condition of anonymity due to the fact that the program is classified in the United States and a government secret in Jordan. It is also in no way connected to the program put in place to train rebels to oppose ISIS, which was shelved after managing to train only a small number of Syrian rebels.

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