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US plots to arm Syrian rebels with Muammar Gaddafi leftovers

Published: December 10, 2012
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Source: Australian/AP

THE US is launching a covert operation to send weapons to Syrian rebels for the first time as it ramps up military efforts to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

Mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles will be sent through friendly Middle Eastern countries already supplying the rebels, according to well-placed diplomatic sources.

The US has bought weapons from the stockpiles of Libya’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi. They include SA-7 missiles, which can be used to shoot down aircraft.

The rebels are gaining ground after 20 months of civil war in which an estimated 40,000 Syrians have died. They have entered the suburbs of Damascus and have surrounded its airport. US State Department officials are in regular contact with rebel field commanders, talking to them on Skype for hours every day. The commanders have repeatedly pressed for more weapons.

President Barack Obama authorised clandestine CIA support earlier this year and both the US and Britain have had special forces and intelligence officers on the ground for some time.

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