An opposition fighter runs in front of a sniper curtain across a street in the industrial area of Syria's eastern town of Deir Ezzor during clashes Thursday with regime forces. (Abo Shuja / AFP via Getty Images)
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AMMAN, JORDAN — Arms smuggled by the United States to the Syrian rebels are just “symbolic” and won’t make a difference in the fight against the regime or against Islamists, Free Syrian rebel commanders and the Syrian opposition told USA Today.
They said that, so far, shipments that began after the U.S. relaxed restrictions on weapons exports to the opposition in June, mainly going via Jordan, have consisted of light munitions and anti-tank missiles — and nothing heavier because the U.S. government is worried over weapons falling into the hands of Islamists.
“It won’t change anything,” said Abu Abdullah, 33, a Free Syrian Army rebel commander based in northern Syria near the Turkish and Iraqi borders. “What we have gotten is not enough.”
Abdullah said these weapons, that go through a special command center in Jordan operated by the CIA, are earmarked for select groups of rebel fighters battling Islamists, particularly in the Kurdish north. This means the assistance is not always reaching the rebel groups fighting regime troops.
“The weapons they got is not enough to face jihadists, either,” he added.
Since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, the U.S. has supplied food and medical equipment. In June, President Obama agree to start arming the rebels. But the rebels are a decentralized force of hundreds of independent units, making it difficult for the U.S. to determine which group to supply.
Some of the rebel groups work closely with the better armed and organized Islamists such as al Qaida-linked Jabhat al Nusra, designated by the U.S. as a terrorist group.
Syrian rebel commanders near Damascus say they and rebel brigades they communicate with have not reported receiving arms from the U.S. — only Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, and all light munitions as well.
“It wasn’t anything effective — no missiles,” said Abu Sufian, a Free Syrian Army rebel who is currently based in the Damascus suburbs.