Russian military officials died by the hands of CIA-backed rebels in Syria.
Evidence has emerged strongly suggesting that U.S.-armed rebels have used an American-supplied weapons system to kill a handful of senior Russian military officials in Syria.
Video footage, circulated by a known CIA-backed rebels known as Free Syrian Army militia, shows a laser-guided BGM-71 TOWs anti-tank missile fired at a rooftop where unidentified uniformed personnel had gathered.
The location of the building under attack is likely Latakia province, where the rebels have lately suffered setbacks as a result of intensified Russian airstrikes and artillery shelling aiding forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Everything is based on open-source intelligence and reporting from Syrian opposition, Turkish, and Russian sources, all of which agree that at least one high-ranking Russian was killed in action in Syria.
But if the FSA is indeed taking out Russian commanders with American materiel, then two former Cold War adversaries would find themselves in a miniature replay of the Soviet-Afghan proxy war—exactly the sort of geopolitical brinkmanship that President Obama has repeatedly forsworn.
Ever since Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber that had briefly entered Turkish airspace on Nov. 24, Moscow has retaliated with information warfare (Putin has accused the NATO member of buying oil from ISIS, something his client in Damascus continues to do), sanctions, canceled pipeline talks, and a high-octane form of deterrence. Russia’s most sophisticated air defense system, the S-400, arrived in Syria not long thereafter.
The final piece of evidence was furnished again on Thursday by the Northern Division, which posted a follow-up video interspersing statements from the TOW gunner seen in the original with the raw footage of the attack. An officer from the Northern Division stated on camera: “The Anti-Aircraft Battalion affiliated with the Northern Division got information from the battalion commander that some Russians were scouting in the Turkmen Mountains. We took the [TOW] base and, following the reconnaissance mission, we found a number of Russian soldiers gathered on the rooftop of a building. I dealt with them and one of the dead was a high-ranking Russian officer, alongside some Russian officers and Syrian officers.” This appeared to conform to what the Local Coordination Committees and Anadolu Agency had earlier published.
The provision of this munition is both limited and highly regulated. The TOWs are supplied directly by Saudi Arabia, from stocks purchased from the United States, and with an end-user agreement that allows a U.S. veto on where they are used and by whom. According to multiple FSA sources, who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity, rebels are trained in teams of 50 in Jordan, Qatar, Turkey, or Saudi Arabia, but mainly in the first two countries. “After this training, they get back to the border, they get inside Syria, and then they get their gear,” one Jordan-based rebel liaison familiar with the TOW supply chain said. “With the TOW, each 50-man team gets one launcher and five missiles. They’re told to make a video verifying the missiles’ use and bring the spent missile casings to show they haven’t sold them or whatever.”
Approximately 4,000 anti-Assad rebels have gone through this ostensibly clandestine program, the source added, meaning that the total number of TOWs that have already circulated throughout Syria is roughly 400.
TOW recipients are part of a CIA-spearheaded program, featuring 39 select rebel groups, dedicated to fighting the Assad regime and its manifold proxies. The program is coordinated in two joint operations centers, based in Turkey and Jordan, and administered by the intelligence agencies of several Western and regional countries. TOWs have been shown to render the regime’s dwindling stock of Soviet-era armored vehicles into fiery gnarls of metal. Recently, however, these vehicles have been photographed outfitted with a panoramic turret that many observers believe is a missile detection mechanism, which would itself be an indicator of the high toll the weapon has taken on the Syrian Arab Army. Russian T-90 tanks equipped with active anti-missile protection systems also have appeared lately on the frontlines with both Syrian soldiers and Hezbollah paramilitaries.