- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 23, 2012

ALEPPO, Syria — It was long past midnight, but the rebel commander couldn’t sleep until his fighters returned from the Turkish border with the latest shipment of gear to help them battle the Syrian army.

In the morning, his team arrived with their prize: a single suitcase of night-vision goggles.

For the first time, his brigade’s snipers would be able to strike back at night against regime snipers who already have night-vision capabilities in the street-by-street fights for territory in the battleground city of Aleppo.

“We need one for every fighter,” said the commander, Osama, who leads one of the rebel brigades fighting in Aleppo. Still, the small number in the shipment “is better than nothing,” he said. “We will surprise the enemy when we start using them.”

He said the goggles were provided by a “sympathizer” in Europe, but refused to elaborate.

Piece by piece, Syria’s rebels are slowly expanding their arsenal and getting their hands on more advanced weapons.

The process still appears to be haphazard and improvised, far from the reliable, organized pipeline that rebels have sought for much of the 19-month-old uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Instead, it often remains a scramble by individual units in the highly fragmented rebel forces to obtain what they can. Most units still rely on their staple arsenal of automatic weapons, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades, adapted to fit their needs.

But there have been notable advances. Most important, anti-aircraft missiles have made their first appearances in rebel hands in recent weeks, a weapon that some fighters boast could turn the tide against the regime.


Mr. Assad’s forces have adapted too, although surprisingly at times they have turned more low-tech for the needs of urban warfare against guerrillas.

Rebel fighters say the most terrifying new regime weapons are cluster munitions, which scatter “bomblets” over a large area, and so-called “barrel” bombs.

The latter are fuel-soaked barrels packed with explosives and metal shards that are shoved out of helicopters or airplanes. They ignite the sand, and can cause horrendous blasts and casualties.

Some analysts say the tactics adopted by Mr. Assad signal a military under strain.

Although few expect the war to end soon, many say progressive changes in the sides’ respective armories appear to favor the rebels in the long run.

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