[Marxism] TOW missiles, Orwell, and "US-backed rebels"

Michael Karadjis mkaradjis at gmail.com
Sun Oct 18 06:15:22 MDT 2015

Several days ago, the article ‘Did U.S. weapons supplied to Syrian 
rebels draw Russia into the conflict?’ 
was sent to the list. The ‘US weapons’ it was referring to were the TOW 
anti-tank guided missiles, supplied to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) by 
Saudi Arabia, which has stocks of these weapons.

This article confuses the very limited US-approved TOW program that has 
been ongoing since April 2014, with Saudi Arabia’s new massive shipment 
of 500 TOW missiles just after, and in response to, the Russian 

Thus this article, laughably in my opinion, tries to make out that the 
US TOW program was so breathtakingly successful in helping the rebels 
against Assad, that it led to the Russians invading, as they had to back 
up Assad because he was on the skids due to US weaponry. This is 
essentially bravado-propaganda for the US, to show that it has not been 
as “ineffective” as widely claimed, that it has been showing some 
“military muscle,” such credibility-boosting propaganda suddenly 
necessary in the face of Putin’s naked assertion of aggressive military 

[As an aside, I believe this sudden need for US credibility-propaganda 
is also behind the truly Orwellian extent to which the FSA is being 
referred to in the imperialist media, nearly every time, as “US-backed” 
or “CIA-backed” over the last few weeks since the Russian invasion. I 
mean, yes this was common media-speak before, but not so unanimous: just 
as often they were referred to as untrustworthy scum who would 
immediately turn over weapons to "jihadists" since, like other racists, 
the imperialist media often claims "there are no moderates in Syria"! 
But it seems to have become more unanimous since the invasion, for the 
same reason in my view. And “anti-imperialists” love it because they can 
talk about “proxy war,” despite the fact that it was only a few thousand 
at most rebels who ever took part in any way in the CIA program (this 
article claims 3-5,000 were allegedly “trained” under the program: 
out of some 60,000 FSA cadres and another 60,000 mainstream Islamists; 
that even for these it seems to have mostly been “training” that FSA 
cadres often report to be useless, if not mainly a means of 
surveillance; and as for weapons, this often meant “fifteen bullets a 
month” http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33997408?SThisFB%3FSThisFB. But 
I digress].

In contrast, another very similar article the next day, with the same 
“proxy war” flavour, ‘US Made Weaponry Is Turning Syrian Conflict Into 
Proxy War With Russia’ 
was at least a little more realistic:

“Insurgent commanders say that since Russia began air attacks in support 
of the Syrian government, they are receiving *for the first time* 
bountiful supplies of powerful American-made antitank missiles.”

Yes, suddenly the FSA is getting all the TOWs it wants now, after the 
Russian invasion, because Saudi Arabia sent 500 of them several weeks 
ago, in one shipment 
500 is probably more than have been sent in the last 18 months of the 
program. TOWs are US-made, but it is Saudi Arabia that possesses 
thousands of them and actually sends them, not the US. I have no idea 
whether the US approved this particular massive shipment, or whether the 
Saudis even bothered asking; after the Russian invasion, the Saudis and 
Gulf announced they would make a “military response” and dramatically 
step up “supplies of modern, high-powered weaponry including guided 
anti-tank weapons” to Syrian rebels 
(http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34479929), and this massive 
TOW shipment is it. It is almost certain that they would have sent them 
whatever the US had said.

Hence the incredible FSA “tank massacre” last week, when Assadist ground 
forces, backed by Russian warplanes, were stopped in their tracks by the 
FSA in Hama, who destroyed 20-45 Assad tanks 
These “proxy war” media articles are being far too generous to the US: 
the reason there has never been such a ‘tank massacre’ before was 
precisely because of the piddling numbers the US would allow the Saudis 
to send from their stocks, to specific US-“vetted” groups, and the 
limiting conditions imposed. For example, they couldn’t simply supply 
these groups with TOWs: the group had to request them for a specific 
operation (kind of like writing a funding submission), and then if the 
US agreed they were restricted to batches of no more than 5-6 TOWs at a 
time. No ‘tank massacres’ allowed; the US wanted them on a tight leash.

And then if they wanted more, they had to return the spent shells, to 
show they haven’t “passed them on to terrorists” etc. A process both 
cumbersome and ineffective, and of course guaranteed to give the US as 
much control as possible (ie, to limit the struggle as much as 
possible). And though the Saudis may not like these demands, they 
largely acquiesced. And the other thing they had to do to prove they don’t 
“pass them on to terrorists” is film the action; and that’s why the 
youtubosphere contains a lot more TOW missile firings than others, 
giving a false impression of their relative importance (ie, false before 
2 weeks ago).

Frankly, if the Saudis had had the guts (I don’t care about their 
motivations etc at this point, given the long-term genocidal slaughter 
of the Syrian people) to defy the US and send the numbers of TOWs they 
just sent now, one or two years ago, Assad would probably have been 
suing for peace (though of course without anti-aircraft missiles, he 
still could have upped the aerial slaughter).

It is also worth remembering that from 2012 to 2014 the US *blocked* the 
Saudis or Qatar from sending any anti-tank weapons, not only 
anti-aircraft missiles. That is, when they would have been most useful 
to the FSA, the US blocked them. And indeed, by late 2012, Assad’s war 
had already become so much a war of aerial slaughter that even anti-tank 
weapons would only have been a relative advantage if anti-aircraft 
weapons were still blocked; but as this “tank massacre” shows, they 
still would have been a very useful commodity.

But why do I say “more useful” then, more than now? Not because they are 
not useful now, but rather because, in wars, guerrilla armies, over 
time, capture lots of equipment from the military they are fighting. And 
so it was: by the time the US finally sent (or agreed to let Saudi send) 
the first batch of TOWs to the northern-based FSA group Harakat Hazm in 
April 2014 (1), the FSA had already captured significant numbers of 
similar quality Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM’s) from the regime army, 
including the Russian-made 9M14 Malyutka, 9K111 Fagot, 9M113 Konkurs, 
9K115-2 Metis-M, 9M133 Kornet, Chinese-made HJ-8 and the 
French/German-made MILAN 

Thus, since the FSA by then had them anyway, THEN the US could allow 
some of its own to be supplied, giving it both a means of control (and 
limitation), possible co-option, and publicity (the videos), because it 
won’t have the unintended side-effect of actually providing anything 
really new or game-changing to the FSA; nothing that would actually help 
it win that it didn’t already have.

However one assesses my claims here, there can be no real argument about 
the big picture: the level of US weaponry provided to the FSA has 
consistently been a micro-fraction of the level of advanced conventional 
WMD supplied to the Assad regime by Russia and Iran, both in quantity 
and above all quality, and consistently behind by a number of years in 
terms of actual needs of the time: the US supplied zero weapons until 
about the end of 2013 or early 2014, only things like radios, tents, 
night goggles and “ready-meals;” only then did some light weapons and 
very limited ammunition start coming through to some “vetted” groups; 
only in April 2014 were the first anti-tank weapons allowed to be sent 
to some vetted groups; anti-aircraft weapons are still barred. Yet the 
regime was using machine guns against peaceful protest from March 2011, 
then tanks and artillery by late 2011-early 2012, and warplanes, 
helicopters, barrel combs and scud missiles by late 2012 and chemical 
weapons by 2013.

Thus for those hooked on their shallow “proxy war” analysis, you are 
comparing a bunch of gangsters firing machine guns into a house, being 
constantly re-supplied with guns and ammunition by their friends further 
afield, with the residents of the house being dropped water pistols and 
sling-shots down the chimney to defend themselves with, by their … 
“friends;” but not all residents get even these ‘weapons’, only those in 
the “vetted” room, and after a considerable delay, after sending a 
submission. Try to stop talking nonsense.

There is of course a logic to all this; despite leftist fantasies about 
the US aiming for “regime change,” it has never been the aim; for anyone 
that actually listens to US leaders, it is regime preservation the US 
and other imperialist powers want, believing that if Assad himself were 
to obligingly “step aside,” the regime would be better able to be 
preserved. To that end, the maximum you want is a tiny bit of military 
pressure, at very most; certainly nothing that even comes close to 
evening up the battle.

(1)    Supplies to Hazm began to dwindle within a few months, as Hazm 
refused US orders to not cooperate with Nusra against the regime 
the US cut off Hazm’s supply later that year when Hazm condemned the 
onset of the US air war (September 2014) as “a violation of national 
sovereignty and an attack on the revolution” 
(https://pbs.twimg.com/media/ByPSsxMIYAQy2Wt.jpg), and in particular 
condemned its bombing of non-ISIS targets such as Nusra, showing it 
refused to be a proxy. In “thanks,” Nusra used the martyr status it 
gained from being bombed by the US to turn its guns on Hazm in January 
2015, accusing them of being … US proxies, for ever having received any 
US weapons!
(2)    Useful to look at in general – showing the overwhelming bulk of 
weaponry used by the FSA is Russian or East European made, ie, comes 
from Syrian regime stocks, via capture, defection, corrupt sale etc. 

More information about the Marxism mailing list