“My sense is that the rebels are winning this war,” said Jeffrey White, who studies Syria for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “They are winning by inches, and the regime is doing its best to use its assets in innovative ways, but it is basically losing that fight.”
Arms improvisation has been key to the rebel movement since it started months after the first protests of the anti-Assad uprising in March 2011.
After deadly government crackdowns, civilians and army defectors took up arms to protect their towns and attack government troops.
The rebels have long asked sympathetic nations to arm them, complaining that they cannot get strong enough weapons to face Mr. Assad’s powerful arsenal of tanks, artillery, mortars and warplanes.
Though there have been reports of Persian Gulf nations funneling some arms, many rebel brigades say they have not received any such shipments.
For most of the conflict, they have relied on smugglers and weapons captured from the Syrian military.
A motley cache of weapons
While he waited for his team to come back with the night-vision goggles last week, Commander Osama showed The Associated Press a sampling of the improvised armory his brigade of several hundred men has collected. Assault rifles hung from the walls, and bullets, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades sat in boxes nearby.
Osama spoke on condition that he be identified only by his first name for fear of retaliation against his family.
One rifle had a telescopic sight crudely welded to its body to turn it into a sniper’s rifle. His men bought the scopes separately for $150 each and assembled them to rifles.
“It’s not really good, but we have to do what we can,” he said.
He also showed a rocket-propelled grenade launcher that his men captured in a recent raid on an army garrison. It was a much larger caliber than the rocket-propelled grenades his men have and can disable the regime’s most advanced tanks — but only if the shooter gets within 400 yards.
“That takes unbelievable courage,” he said, because regime tanks on the move are closely guarded by snipers.
In what would be a significant advance, an official with the Free Syrian Army — the rebel’s loose umbrella group — who is involved in procuring weapons said the rebels have now obtained dozens of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.