America should stop the ‘barrel bombs’ in Syria


*syria barrel bombs 2By Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, Published: May 8

Recently, schoolchildren in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo prepared an art presentation that provided a creative outlet and a respite from their war-torn surroundings. Some children drew cheerful scenes of birds carrying the Syrian flag on a sunny day. Others depicted traumatic scenes of war they had witnessed. One drew Aleppo’s iconic citadel.

On April 30, a barrel bombing demolished the school just hours before the exhibition was set to open. A number of children were killed before they could present their work. Others who were “luckier” spent a day they had eagerly anticipated in agonizing pain, under intensive medical care.

Americans might be interested to know that the U.S. flag was a repeated motif at the ill-fated exhibition. Drawings showed Old Glory atop a house with inviting yellow windows, on the body of a bird soaring toward a hilltop and above a young girl smiling with outstretched arms.

These Syrian children admire the United States. In the midst of a horrifying war, they look to America with hope and expectation. Have we fulfilled their hopes for the type of secure childhood that most Americans take for granted?

According to the Syrian National Council, at least 20,000 people have been killed in “barrel bomb” attacks since anti-government protests in Syria began in March 2011. These devices are large containers filled with explosives and shrapnel that, when dropped from high altitudes, explode upon impact and cause massive destruction. Since the Assad regime has a monopoly on airpower, it is the only party capable of deploying barrel bombs.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 2139 demands an end to “indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs.” The resolution, passed on Feb. 22, 2014, marked a rare moment of unanimity on Syria from the Security Council.

syria barrel bombsBut barrel bomb attacks have continued unabated. According to Human Rights Watch, the Assad regime has unleashed barrel bombs on at least 85 distinct locations in Aleppo since Feb. 22. The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimates more than 920 deaths due to barrel bombings between Feb. 22 and April 22.

Resolution 2139 included the threat of “further steps” if its provisions were not abided. But U.N. spokesmen have stated that any further action would require a Chapter 7 mandate from the Security Council — where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s staunch ally Russia holds veto power. Unless the United States is willing to act outside the U.N. framework, it consigns children across Syria to the horrors of barrel bombings.

It would not take much for the United States to make a difference. A man whose neighborhood has endured numerous bombings reports that, after one regime helicopter was shot down by opposition forces, all attacks from the air ceased for 15 days. So a slight increase in the opposition’s capacity to target helicopters could have an enormous payoff in lives saved.

For this reason, Syrian opposition representatives have repeatedly requested the transfer of anti-aircraft weapons to moderate rebel groups. Syrian Opposition Coalition head Ahmad al-Jarba is making his first visit to Washington this week specifically to make this appeal to President Obama and the American public. Numerous reports have indicated that the White House is reconsidering its previous refusal to furnish Syria’s opposition with man-portable air defense systems, or MANPADS.

MANPADS are portable, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles that would enable Syrian rebel groups to target regime aircraft. A major objection to their provision has been that terrorist groups could later obtain them and use them against civilian airliners. Administration officials are currently studying technological fixes such as fingerprint-keyed security locks, GPS tracking and “kill switches” that could instantly disable the devices.

Often lost in the MANPADS debate is that the weapons are already in wide circulation, including among terrorists. In 2004, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated that around 6,000 MANPADS were in the hands of hostile non-state organizations. The intelligence firm Stratfor in 2010 included among these organizations al-Qaeda, al-Shabab and Hezbollah .

As few as 20 MANPADS distributed to moderate Syrian rebel groups would make Assad regime pilots think twice before agreeing to decimate civilian areas through barrel bombings. And the added risk to civilian airliners would be extremely small, especially if the MANPADS were outfitted with the technological fixes under discussion.

For the sake of the thousands of Syrians killed or injured by barrel bombings — including schoolchildren in Aleppo who believed in the United States — the American people should support the provision of MANPADS to carefully vetted elements of the Syrian opposition.

* Mohammed Alaa Ghanem is the senior political adviser and government relations director for the Syrian American Council in Washington, a board member of the Coalition for a Democratic Syria and a fellow at the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

Washington Post



6 responses to “America should stop the ‘barrel bombs’ in Syria”

  1. MekensehParty Avatar

    This is amateurish at best:
    – If the US starts distributing manpads left and right, what would stop other big powers supplying manpads or equivalent left and right?
    – Does the writer have any idea what a big scandal it would be if one of these US made and distributed manpads is stolen, smuggled and used against US interests? Mr. Ghanem does not seem to be familiar with something called “accountability”.
    The answer to Mr. Jabra will be No and Never!
    We proposed our solution and it was rejected when the rebels welcomed Nusra and Isil help. With these two entities well entrenched in Syria’s “liberated” territory no significant help will come from the West.
    Very simple.

    1. sweetvirgo Avatar

      I agree….giving these manpads to these so called rebels is a recipe for disaster.

    2. The real lebanese Avatar
      The real lebanese

      You obviously didn’t read the article close enough.

      “As few as 20 MANPADS distributed to moderate Syrian rebel groups would make Assad regime pilots think twice before agreeing to decimate civilian areas through barrel bombings. “

      1. MekensehParty Avatar

        He forgot to add 20 MANPADs and a teleport station.
        No territory is held in Aleppo by moderates, or Hama, or Homs, or idlib or Riqa or Deir ezzor… The only place where the “moderates” have any presence is in the south: deraa and qunaitra and that’s along with other Islamists and qaedist who can ambush moderates anytime they want

  2. Guest Avatar

    Russia has given these to the insurgents in east Ukraine since they have been used against Ukrainian army helicopters. Such is Russian hypocrisy trying to pressure the U.S. against supplying these to Syrian rebels.

  3. Guest Avatar

    Supplying MANPAD to rebels? Mr. Mohammed Alaa Ghane, you of all people should know that’s never going to happen.

    The reason isn’t that difficult to understand either: by what measures that the “moderate rebel groups”, who are now reduced to a minority in the civil war and fair game to AQ-affiliated groups like anyone else, can ironclad guarantee any shipment of MANPAD supplied to them, won’t ended up disappeared into the black market and got into the hands of radicals who’d use it to shoot at civilian airliners at other places? The availability of China-made MANPAD (most likely licence-made copies from Pakistan) to rebel groups already alarming enough as it is.

    The DHL flight got hit in Baghdad by a SA-7 proved MANPAD has the potential to bring down big airliners, it’s through sheer luck the DHL flight limp it way back to ground.

    Simply put, give MANPAD to “moderate rebel groups” might as well just hand them to the AQ-affiliated rebels instead, because that’s where the shipment will ended up anyway.

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