With the EU arms embargo behind them, Syrian rebels will begin taking delivery of weapons from the U.S next month after two key U.S congressional committees approved weapons shipments.
The rebels hope the U.S will send "a large number of small weapons" such as rifles and basic anti-tank weapons starting in August, Louay Sakka, a co-founder of the Syrian Support Group, told Reuters.
The American weapons will certainly be a far cry from the primitive homemade arms the rebels had taken to creating themselves. With the help of a network of primitive arms-making plants, their creation includes machine-gun mounts, hand grenades, rockets, mortar shells, and roadside bombs.
In November 2012, rebels gained access to heavy weapons like rockets, mortars, cannons and two dozen armored personnel carriers and tanks of various vintage after raiding an artillery base near Mayadeen.
Since the Syrian civil war broke out two years ago, rebel forces have used a variety of MANPADS including SA-7s and SA-16s, along with SA-24s and FN-6s (the first three hail from Russia and the last from China) to bring down helicopters.
Although it’s unclear how the rebels how hold of heat-seeking shoulder-fired missiles, U.S officials say Qatar has used obscure arms networks to ferry at least two arms shipments.
Qatar has also been instrumental in ousting long-reigning Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Doha increased its support for opposition fighters in Libya trying to overthrow the government by supplying them with machine guns, automatic rifles, mortars and ammunition.
Meanwhile, the CIA will administer the program, which according to officials will work out cheaper than having the military ship the weapons. According to reports, military options like creating a no-fly buffer or arming and training the rebels are expensive, at $500 million to $1 billion per month.
Although the exact timeline is unclear, Syrian rebel supporters hope to receive the arms shipments beginning August.
The UK was all set to arm the rebels earlier in March but did the quick U-turn after Prime Minister David Cameron abandoned plans to send aid.
According to the Telegraph, senior military officials warned Cameron that with the momentum on the side of President Assad's regime, sending small arms and missiles is unlikely to make a difference.
There are also growing concerns that arms sent to Syria could end up in the hands of extremists rather than moderate rebels, potentially presenting a long-term threat to British security, the report said.
Ally France has made a similar stance after vigorously pushing the EU to lift the arms embargo. French President Francois Holland said that his country will double humanitarian aid to the opposition but stopped short of making promises to arm them.
"I hope that we can persuade our European partners, if and when further change becomes necessary, they will agree with us," Cameron told a parliamentary committee in March. "But if we can't, then it's not out of the question we might have to do things in our own way. It's possible," he added.
Cameron approved the provision of providing four-wheel drive armored vehicles and body armor for Syrian opposition rebels as part of a 9.4 million Euro package of non-lethal equipment.
The British Daily Star Sunday has recently published a report, claiming that Britain's government had sent "a secret 20 million Euros arsenal of weapons to Syrian rebels, including rifles, machine guns and missiles".
The Obama Administration had been reluctant to engage in the Syrian conflict until last month after the Syrian government allegedly used chemical weapons multiple times while combating rebel forces.