Syrian Rebels Inherit Arms From Gadhafi's Former Forces

The New York Times reports that Qatar has been arming rebels inside Syria by taking weapons from Libya and shipping them through Turkey. The same weapons were once held by Moammar Gadhafi. Audie Cornish talks to Times reporter Mark Mazzetti.

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To news of the civil war in Syria now. While the United States has wrestled with the questions of whether, how and when to arm the Syrian rebels, some of those rebels have been getting arms from Libya - that, according to the New York Times.

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And as the paper points out, it is a turnabout: the inheritors of one strongman's arsenal, using them in the fight against another. Mark Mazzetti was one of three authors on that article. He joins us now. Welcome, Mark.

MARK MAZZETTI: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So let's start with the basics. What did you learn about how the Syrian rebels are getting these Libyan arms?

MAZZETTI: Well, primarily, the Syrian rebels are getting the arms because the country of Qatar is helping to supply those arms. Qatar was very instrumental in helping the Libyan opposition during Libya's civil war. And now, Libya is so awash in weapons as a result of that, Qatar is helping redirect those arms now to Syria and the various factions inside Syria that are fighting President Assad's army.

And so, as we reported, there are boat shipments and Qatari air shipments that are helping direct those arms into the theater in Syria.

CORNISH: So Mark, help us understand; what's the role of the transitional government of Libya, in all of this?

MAZZETTI: It's unclear, exactly, whether the government itself is playing a hands-on role in redirecting these arms from Libya to Syria, although - you know - there is so much in Libya right now that is outside of the control of the transitional government, Qatar certainly could take large stockpiles of weapons from outside the hands of the transitional government and send them into Syria.

CORNISH: Now, to talk more about what's going on in Syria, then, what sort of weapons are we talking about, and who were the recipients of these weapons?

MAZZETTI: Antitank weapons, small arms, ammunition; there are reports of anti-aircraft weapons, although those are difficult to track. They are coming in primarily through Turkey and, again, assisted by the Qataris. So they're coming in to northern Syria, and they're primarily going to rebel groups in the northern part of Syria that - at least the U.S. would say - are more Islamist in nature, are more interested in a - Islam state in Syria, post-Assad; as opposed to some of the more, quote-unquote, "secular groups" that the Saudis and the Americans have been helping to train for some time.

CORNISH: So help us understand the dynamics here with Turkey and the Turkish government. Are they complicit in this?

MAZZETTI: Turkey is at least taking a hands-off attitude; where they're certainly allowing it, if they're not actually complicit. I mean, there's only - really - two places to get the arms in, into Syria; either Jordan or Turkey. We've seen that Turkey has been a far wider, more busy pipeline because the Turks have indicated they would like to arm the Syrian rebels. And so, Qatar at least is primarily seeing Turkey as an ally in this effort.

CORNISH: What is the wider concern here, say, for U.S. officials, who have raised all kinds of concerns about what weapons come in and out of Syria?

MAZZETTI: Well, the concern on the Obama administration's part is that this is just a complete free-for-all; that nobody is coordinating any of these arms shipments in to the rebels. And so as a result, everyone is doing their own thing. So Qatar is being, as I said, particularly aggressive; and they're arming some groups that the United States might not like them to arm. But other Middle Eastern states say, well, if the United States is not going to take a leadership role, then we're going to do what we want.

What is going to be interesting to see is whether, as a result of the announcement - about a week and a half ago, where the United States said they would take a more active role in arming the rebellion - whether that changes the dynamic; whether that means the United States does try to sort of coordinate this better than it has been coordinated. Or does it mean that the United States is just another player getting involved in arming the rebellion and Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates keep doing their own thing? That, I think, remains to be seen.

CORNISH: Mark, thank you.

MAZZETTI: Thanks very much.

CORNISH: That's New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti, talking about the shipment of Libyan arms to Syrian rebels. Mark Mazzetti is also the author of "The Way of the Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth."

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