October 17th, 2012
04:46 PM ET

Syrian rebels said to cut deals for arms from extremists

By Chris Lawrence

Syrian rebels are through waiting for substantial arms from western nations and Arab countries and are instead increasingly cutting their own deals to get weapons from extremists, including al Qaeda-like groups, a senior U.S. lawmaker told CNN.

"Even rebels we've identified as somebody we could work with have partnered with jihadists, because they have their own sources of money and weapons," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said in an interview.

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The Obama administration has been cautiously aiding in the vetting of Syrian rebels, and sticking to its policy of only providing non-lethal aid like computers and satellite communication gear.

Since moderate Syrian rebels are not getting the heavy firepower they need from the United States, they're going to well-armed and well-funded extremists for help in fighting Bashar al Assad's regime, Rogers said.

Administration officials have been cautious due to the fluid nature of the Syrian civil war, and the difficulty in determining the ideology of rebel commanders.

"It's not just a matter of individual leaders. It's also a matter of ensuring that the groups that are working there are not becoming infiltrated," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Officials have been worried about providing weapons to the rebels that could fall into the hands of extremists or be used to commit terrorist acts. But the approach of careful vetting may be running out of time.

"Certain elements of the rebels are reaching across to these jihadist units, because they tend to be armed and effective and committed fighters, which is more than they can say for their own units at times," said Rogers, a Michigan Republican.

He described a scenario in which jihadists offer to drive a car bomb into a gate, which is a valuable weapon for a Syrian rebel commander trying to fight Assad's better-armed, more technologically-advanced forces.

"You could see how these decisions get made and these relationships could be developed."

Firepower from elsewhere

While the United States has provided rebels with non-lethal weapons, the real firepower is coming from its allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia. American officials insist they have a good idea where those weapons are going and which rebel groups are receiving them.

"We are very active in working with our partners to assess the situation ... that there be good vetting of who it's going to and that we compare notes on what we are seeing," Nuland said.

But Rogers suggests the United States is not getting anything close to the full picture from its Arab allies.

"Yes, we get information from them. Do we get it all? No. Do we have full knowledge of all the things they're doing, including where the money goes and where the weapons go? No."

Rogers argues that because the United States has taken a more "hands off" approach, American officials are not privy to all the conversations taking place, and thus do not have a complete view of who is providing what.

"Some of the streams of money we know about, some we don't. Some weapons streams we know a lot about, so we don't know anything about," he said.

A U.S. official, who would not speak for full attribution because of the sensitivity of the information, told CNN that arms are coming into Syria and ending up with extremist groups.

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The New York Times reported Tuesday about a classified government report regarding this concern.

"There's no question that some of the weapons have gone to those we would describe as militants, or jihadists," the official said. "That's one of the thorniest issues right now, how difficult it is to delineate the specific affiliations of small groups of fighters."

The official explained the current thinking of the U.S. government is that some groups, such as the Liwa al-Tawheed Brigade, have received supplies from Qatar and Saudi Arabia but that those two nations are not the only sources for hardliners' weapons.

"For example," the official said, "the Farouq Brigade is well-armed. But it received a lot of its weapons from Lebanese militant groups, not Qatar or Saudi Arabia."

The State Department said tracking the flow of weapons is a high priority.

"This is a very very important issue right now, as we see an increasing trend of extremists trying to take advantage of the violence ... to try and hijack what the Syrian people want and deserve," Nuland said.

The issue has come up in the presidential campaign.

Republican nominee Mitt Romney has argued for a more aggressive approach in Syria, and promised to get heavy weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades into rebel hands.

"I'll work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values, and then ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad's tanks and helicopters and fighter jets," Romney told a crowd at the Virginia Military Institute this month.

Sharing heavy weapons

That would fit Rogers' call for the United States to exert a stronger leadership role in the Syrian crisis, but raises the possibility of rebel groups sharing heavy weapons with certain jihadist fighters who have become their allies.

The dual issues of weapons and alliances could have ramifications that extend well beyond the fight against Assad.

As some Syrian freedom fighters scrounge for weapons, there are unconfirmed reports that jihadists are stashing weapons for later.

"Those armed cells, those armed militias who overthrow the government want to have a stake in who replaces it," said Jane's Intelligence analyst Dave Hartwell.

He noted that, if the reports are true, it shows jihadists are already planning for what happens if and when Assad falls. "It shows a level of foresight that is perhaps missing from the opposition."

Rogers said extremists "are well-armed, and well-funded. I don't think that status would change after the fall of the regime. They are going to be there, and we will have to deal with them in some way, shape or form when this is all over."

Rogers said current intelligence suggests about one out of every four rebel groups leans toward extremist or jihadist views.

He said some groups are as large as 3,000 and others as small as 50 people. And he does not believe that 25% of all rebel fighters are extremists.

But Rogers warned with the way some of the partnerships between rebels and jihadists are coalescing, the United States has a very tight window to step in and exert a leadership role: perhaps as short as four to six weeks.

"I'm worried about the extremists developing a stature that when this thing falls, they are the ones standing up with the structure finance and weapons as they have today."

soundoff (75 Responses)
  1. BABA

    How bout', 5% of the world's population stop making 100% of the world's weapons. We have to put the Khefti back in Caucus mountains again.

    October 18, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Reply
  2. Denverboy

    What the Rebels are going to find out from the Islam exstreamist is...It's not there Country anymore...thank you and goodby...At that point the Rebels will be rounded up...and shot by there Muslim Brothers in Arms....a sad end ..But when you sleep with jackels.........

    October 18, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
  3. Pieter

    Unless the Islam followers takes a stance and universally condemns all forms of violence,
    especially Jihad. It is going to be difficult for the rest of the world to trust these followers.
    Because in the minds of people, they are being branded as dangerous extremists.
    There is no such thing as a 'holy war'. All wars are evil, evil, evil!

    October 18, 2012 at 10:12 am | Reply
  4. Cocopuf

    I wonder sometimes if a dictator wouldn't be better for these @sswholes because any type of democracy is incompatible with islam. Islam is essentially a slave run cult that requires a dictator.

    October 18, 2012 at 9:13 am | Reply
  5. enough already

    the us is supplying the rebels with weapons it came out about a month ago when obama finnally admitted he signed executive order to do so a long time ago. i know ppl from syria who everyday learn of a family member or friend being killed because there christian if u where a cross your killed america got it wrong there president was loved by over 90% of the ppl because he let christians and muslims live side by side the rebels are doing the killing sometimes wearing syrian army uniforms they mame kill rape dismember ppl in there own homes and walking down the street before this uprising ppl from the us and elsewhere were free to go to syria it was a beutiful land wake up america your siding with the terrorists get in there or some other western country even the vatican and get these citizens out of harms way especially the christians who arebeing slaughtered everyday because of there religion

    October 18, 2012 at 7:36 am | Reply
    • KSquared

      That's the problem though isn't it? We don't know who the good rebels are (if they exist) from the extremist rebels. This is the entire issue of our relations with the Middle East. The extremists are becoming the majority day by day because their idea of change is to instill Sharia Law everywhere and they already have the belief they have the right to kill non-muslims because we're infidels.

      October 18, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Reply
    • Chemtrails

      Exactly Right. Civilians werent beint butchered by the legitimate government before the terrorists started this war were they. Stop and think about that. This started when these animals the zionist media and controlled us government call freedom fighters and rebels and free syrian army. What a sad thing it is indeed when the west is again in bed with terrorists...same as Libya all over again. Except that Syria has chem weps and is backed by the good friend Iran. Long Live Syria and Assad.

      October 18, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Reply
  6. fu*kth3w3st

    they are all the same now their noses full of blood try to have some sort of truce.
    here are the real situation for so called FSA terrorists in sirya in general:

    http://breakingnews.sy/en/album/57.html

    October 18, 2012 at 7:23 am | Reply
  7. Amushadie

    Thanks cnn for doing a great job,keep it up,Allah surely decide the fate of these rebels

    October 18, 2012 at 6:58 am | Reply
  8. sam kohen

    In the 1980s the countries in Central America were ruled by cruel dictators. Human rights movements there, led by Catholic clergy were brutally treated with many of their moderate leaders murdered by government death squads. Finally these movements were newly ledby left wing extremists supported by Cuba who now armed were able to fight back and if fact started to score some real successes. The governments realizing that now they were fighting a real war started warning the US about a Communist led uprising in their country and begged for military assistancel. The only reason the uprising was led by Communists was becuause the Government had murdered the moderates. Will we ever learn. .

    October 18, 2012 at 6:48 am | Reply
  9. ZIMBABWE

    AMERICAN MORALS ARE TOO HIGH. HELL, EVEN AMERICANS SOMETIMES FIND IT DIFFICULT TO MAINTAIN THEM, HENCE THEY ARE FORCED BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE WHEN MAKING MORAL DECISIONS. LOOK AT CHINA. ONLY CONCERNED WITH BUSINESS AND ITS INTERNAL AFFAIRS DESPITE THAT THEY ARE A SUPER POWER

    October 18, 2012 at 6:19 am | Reply
  10. The Old Man

    Look what happened in Egypt, Libya, Tunis, all North African Nations, the US supported Muslim extremist to take power, provided money and support. Now those Muslim jihadist killing Christians, burning churches, because they are part of the government that rule the country, killing Christians, burning Churches goes with no punishment, but they usually practice in their own country and comes to the US to do the work, remember the blind Sheek, do u know how many Christians he killed in Egypt! before he came to the US to try to kill more
    is this what the US foreign policy wants?
    I think it is time for US to-re-think its foreign policy

    October 18, 2012 at 5:47 am | Reply
  11. GoyGuy

    kudos CNN, this is thekind of cold journalism that is needed to cover the middle east crisis.

    even though portraying them as "rebels" and "freedom fighters" would generate greater empathy, i.e. viewership, you have chosen to review the stance of past year and a half.

    it is up to the responsible media to portray the situation as it is: the overtaking of north africa and middle east by retrograde fundamentalist terrorists, financed by qatariand saudi oil money.

    October 18, 2012 at 5:16 am | Reply
  12. abeson favour

    pls U S should help rebel to bring down the evil rigime tnx

    October 18, 2012 at 3:13 am | Reply
  13. RichardLionheart

    The problem is in the root not in the tree and it's fruits. Basically the colonial european power known for the hatred of ISLAM and Muslims in general, since history is evidence the CRUSADES and so on. West played a dirty role on creating a Middle East during the World War I and II which was known as "BIG GAME" in which Russia took it's part with Britain, France n Italy in share.The Muslim Land and People were divided knowing the consequences which they prepared for to happen pre planned i.e root problem. One can imagine the land from Morocco to Central Asia with one Body under one Banner i.e ISLAM, just imagining can effect the enemies shivering to spinal cord, If it becomes reality what will they do that's what they crafted present day Middle East to avoid that to happen in reality. On top of it they put their puppet's regime to control the mass according to their agenda.So my dear fighting for seperate regions, sects, tribes, ideology, groups or eachother is very narrow minded in conclusion fight to liberate all land b/c everybody is suffering the whole Islamic Ummah is suffering from these deception and creation of states with boundaries base on ethinicity, tribes, sunni, shia, nationalism, tribalism and list goes on and on. West have golden rule "Dvide and Rule". We should be proud of our history b/c we produce the son of islam "Salahuddin al Ayoubi", He united the muslims and liberate the Al Qud's and protected the Islamic Land from Opressors. What muslim nation and people need is strong and fair leadership with guidance like our heroes in islam i.e. Sultan Qutus n Baibars during Tatar/Mongol invasion , Salahuddin... there are many more So in short we need to go back to our roots and bring back the zeal of ISLAM which was light from east to west during the time where Romans and Persians rule the world. The scenarios are same just time is different. I mean 21 st century so nothing else change it's same game of power and rule to exploit resources making them rich and making us poor. Our disunity on any basis is core weakness of Ummah and undermining our Goal Thanks.

    October 18, 2012 at 2:36 am | Reply
  14. robert

    You people have at wrong. When this uprising first began it started as "peaceful demonstrations" and then the Syrian government started killing its own people, so these people began defending themselves as any humans would do. This was the turning point Syria, and for over a year now Syrian people have been calling on America and other western countries to help them, it was a golden opportunity for America to establish new beginnings with a new middle east, but America and other western countries turned their backs. And as a result out of desperation, they have turned to somebody who will defend them even if that somebody is someone you dont like. What if it was your mothers,daughters,wives, who were the ones constantly being brutally assaulted,raped, and murdered and everybody you cried to turned their backs on you? Desperation can take you far out of bounds. I think its a shame that America does not defend what she stands for... Freedom and Democracy. You shouldnt mock them or trash talk them for their decision since you never helped them when they called on you, you people turned your backs on them and I woudnt be surprised if they turn their backs on you, I would. #freesyria

    October 18, 2012 at 1:47 am | Reply
    • chasity

      stay out US.let these hoodlums handle this themselves..Romney the war monger would love to hand them tons of weapons..just like he would love another war..NO THANKS ROBME

      October 18, 2012 at 4:50 am | Reply
      • clownalley

        seems odd how few americans understand this is a put up job , created by the american governmnet who have been supplying weapons and funding to the terrorists since inception

        October 18, 2012 at 5:12 am |
  15. Lorvey

    The rebels have teamed up with the terrorists and Al Qaeda from the beginning, the yellow journalism media such as CNN just didn't want to report it because the Obama Administration has been funding and arming these groups all along . The CIA/NATO/Mossad even have training center for the rebel terrorists in Turkey.... check it out. it's for real!! :)

    October 18, 2012 at 1:11 am | Reply
  16. bezboz

    This is OLD news. OLD as in mid-2011 old. STOP arming the Salafis and Wahabis in the middle east. Enough Islamists for two years. Seriously!

    October 18, 2012 at 1:09 am | Reply
  17. Two Eight

    .....and the U.S. (as well as those jovial Soviets) armed the extremists, so nobody's got clean hands here.

    October 17, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Reply
  18. Markid

    During the proxy war of the 1980's in Afghanistan the U.S. not only provided weapons to fight the Russians there, but training to assemble bombs, perform an ambush, and military tactics. All of it used against our soldiers today! The U.S. spent millions of dollars supporting Afghan Freedom Fighters; but after the Russians left they provided almost nothing for them to redevelop their country and left a power vacuum there that was filled by the Taliban and Bin Laden. I think cautiously is the way to proceed with regards to Syria.

    October 17, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  19. mike

    The "Rebels", who by the way are in league with people who think like Bin Laden, are funded by undemocratic monarchies in the Gulf. The "blowback" from this short sighted laziness will haunt us, just like 9/11 haunts us till this day.

    October 17, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  20. sara

    Stay out of Syria and get the heck out of Afghanistan. They will revert back to their middle ages ways once we leave. If we are lucky in another 200 years, they will have either killed each other off, or they may have turned into human beings

    October 17, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Reply
    • Cocopuf

      Frankly, I doubt it very much if they would even want to change. They belong in the twilight zone.

      October 18, 2012 at 9:05 am | Reply
  21. drag1

    the old expression "what goes around comes around". These weapons supplied to these thugs will eventually be used against us one way or another. I really wonderwhy it worth going to such an extreme to overthrow the Assad Regime, I certainly dont see th benefits outweighing the chaos. we need just look at Libya , some "democracy" the west brought there

    October 17, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Reply
  22. JOSH P

    "While the United States has provided rebels with non-lethal weapons, the real firepower is coming from its allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia. American officials insist they have a good idea where those weapons are going and which rebel groups are receiving them".

    Is this a joke,Saudi Arabia and Qatar only manufacture knives as weapons,so we all know, that we are the ones providing these weapons via our proxies.

    October 17, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Reply
  23. a slozomby

    draw a picture of mohammed, millions protest. violent dictator killing fellow muslims, deafening silence.

    i support the syrian people in their quest to change from a brutal secular dictator to a brutal theocratic democracy. i just dont want to pay for it.

    October 17, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Reply
  24. @ohmatt1

    They are not cutting deals with groups "like al qaeda" they ARE Al Qaeda just like the libyan rebels. The US has been arming them for 30 years, only recently using them for a decade or so to play to he bogeyman.

    October 17, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Reply
    • GUY

      Someone needs to tell the president to put the phrase "& We have Al Qaeda on the run!" back into his stump speeches He's right ...Al Qaeda is "On The Run" .......the sad this is that they are on the run ALL OVER Lybia...Syria ....Yemen /..Iran ....Pakistan ..... North Africa and the middle east .....how sad

      October 18, 2012 at 11:24 am | Reply
  25. Bigger Lifter

    Time is right for everyone to read or watch THE SHOCK DOCTRINE. The Syrian people will be worse off if western democracy supplants the current regime and Americans will continue to ask naively, why people of the world hate them. Brilliant plan. Oh...and a few western interests will get VERY RICH. Nice.

    October 17, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Reply

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