Fresh video from the battlefields of southern Idlib province show the rebels using US-made BGM-71 TOW missiles. This weapon has never been observed in rebel use before. Coming on the heels of much speculation that the Obama administration has finally made the decision to aid the Syrian opposition with weapons, the arrival of the TOW missile in Syria is certainly suggestive. Former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford recently stated that he expected a move by the Administration to change the military balance in Syria.
The TOW missiles in question are being used by Harakat Hazam, a Free Syrian Army group that is mostly composed of survivors from the now-defunct Kataeb Farouq FSA group, and they are connected to former FSA Supreme Military Council chief General Salim Idris. Both of these facts mark them as being distinctly less jihadist than the powerful Islamic Front, and General Idris has been the most active solicitor of American aid for the FSA. All of these things indicate that Harakat Hazam would be an attractive option if the Obama Administration was searching for “good rebels” to provide with weapons. Interestingly, Harakat Hazam also began appearing with MANPADs recently. The group has participated in a successful rebel offensive in the south of the contested Idlib province, which has mostly removed a siege placed on the strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun by Assad forces and seized control of a section of the critical Damascus-Aleppo highway.
It remains to be seen whether the US is directly providing weapons or merely allowing weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to flow unimpeded of US pressure on the Jordanian and Turkish governments. If, during his recent visit, President Obama did successfully complete some sort of a deal with the Saudis over what rebel factions will receive the new weapons, this will undoubtedly become more clear as more videos of hardware on the battlefield make their way to Youtube.
Jack Mulcaire is a contributor to War on the Rocks. During the 2011 Libyan Civil War, he helped lead a group of international volunteers that aided and consulted with local rebel councils and units.