The Messaging App Fueling Syria’s Insurgency

The Messaging App Fueling Syria’s Insurgency by Adam Rawnsley, Eric Woods and Christiaan Triebert - Foreign Policy

In rebel-held Syria, access to the weapons you need to wage an insurgency are just a tap away thanks to an encrypted messaging app. The Islamic State may be in retreat, but other militants in Syria have been trading thousands of weapons in publicly accessible black markets hosted on Telegram, including dozens of U.S. military assault rifles and parts for the same kind of anti-tank missile systems distributed by the CIA to anti-Bashar al-Assad rebels. Foreign Policy conducted an exclusive investigation to determine the scale of these arms markets, and where the weapons that ended up on them originated.

The markets have hosted over 5,000 users and catered to buyers and sellers primarily based in the northwest Syrian province of Idlib, according to information posted by users. The province is home to a diverse array of rebel groups, including factions that used to receive advanced weaponry from the CIA, but the al Qaeda-affiliated Hayat Tahrir al-Sham represents far and away the strongest force there after ousting its rivals from power.

Some of the U.S.-made weapons available on these markets likely first entered Syria as part of an ill-fated Pentagon program to train and equip fighters in northern Syria to take on the Islamic State. The Barack Obama administration ended the effort in October 2015, after U.S.-trained commanders were kidnapped and shaken down for arms by al Qaeda soon after crossing from Turkey into Syria — but the American guns from the program continue to live on in illicit arms markets. The American arms, however, are just a small part of thousands of weapons being traded by Syrian militants on the online black markets hosted on the Telegram messaging app.

Provided with a list of serial numbers and accompanying photographs of Defense Department arms for sale in the markets, a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve said that the coalition believes the weapons “may have been part of the now-terminated Syria Train and Equip program that supported Vetted Syrian Opposition forces.” …

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