Several videos posted to YouTube appear to show Syrian rebels using U.S.-made anti-tank weapons, according to Reuters and a Middle East analyst.
If true, it would mark what Reuters called the “first significant American-built armaments” in Syria since the start of the civil war, now in its fourth year.
The images would not necessarily mean the U.S. directly supplied the equipment, as the BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles have been sold to dozens of countries including Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Yemen.
However, use of the American weaponry would “signal a further internationalization of the conflict, with new rockets suspected from Russia and drones from Iran also spotted in the forces of President Bashar al-Assad,” Reuters reported.
Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar who studies the Syrian insurgency, first noted the appearance of American-made weaponry on the Syrian battlefield earlier this month.
“For now, these TOW missiles are U.S.-manufactured & more likely to have been supplied by Saudi with a tacit U.S. green light,” he posted on Twitter Tuesday, noting that weapons still need “expert verification.”
Asked to respond to reports about the anti-tank missiles, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told Reuters: “The United States is committed to building the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderate armed opposition.”
“As we have consistently said, we are not going to detail every single type of our assistance,” she added.
Videos showing the anti-tank weapons in the hands of rebels were posted on YouTube on April 1 and 5 according to Lister, but two have been taken down. One remaining video appears to show missiles in the back of a pickup truck.
Writing in the Huffington Post, Lister said the rebel group seen using the weapons is Harakat Hazm, which he described as “moderate.”
All three of the videos were filmed around the town of Heesh in the Idlib area, he said.
“This marked the first time such weapons have been seen in Syria since the eruption of conflict in the country three years ago,” Lister wrote.
Lister pointed out that under U.S. military sales agreements, foreign governments are required to obtain U.S. approval before moving weapons to a third party.
“So technically, if these BGM-71 TOWs were provided to Harakat Hazm by an opposition supporting state, the U.S. and the Obama administration should have known about it and would have to have given the transfer their blessing,” Lister wrote.
Lister said that a “consistently reliable source” of his claimed an eyewitness saw seven vans containing BGM-71 TOW missiles crossing from Turkey into Syria between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. on March 6.
“Crucially — and it must be emphasized that there is no way to corroborate this claim — the TOWs were ‘sent’ by Saudi Arabia, who the source described merely as ‘an agent,’ perhaps suggesting the involvement of additional foreign states,” Lister wrote in an update to his original post.