Tracking Arms and Armies in Syria

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A Syrian citizen holds the remains of a projectile shot by a tank near the town of Khan Sheikhun.

Reporting on the ongoing conflict in Syria has been a challenge for traditional journalists for a number of reasons, including the difficulty of getting into the country and the safety concerns on the ground.

Filmmaker Olly Lambert gained access to Syria last year and spent five weeks reporting on both sides of the war, from the perspective of both Syrian rebels and government soldiers.

Eliot Higgins has never been to Syria, but he is considered something of an expert when it comes to the monitoring of weapons used in the war, even though he has no formal training in the arms trade. For almost a year, Higgins has been carefully watching and analyzing hundreds of videos posted online every day from the Syrian conflict. From the comfort of his home, Higgins, who is currently unemployed, shares his analysis of Syrian weapons in his Brown Moses blog which has been used by journalists, including Lambert, to help them with their reporting.

Higgins has worked with Human Rights Watch to document the use of cluster bombs in Syria, and recently discovered that Syrian opposition fighters had been using weapons from Croatia, reported to have been covertly shipped into the country with the help of the CIA.

Lambert’s forthcoming Frontline documentary, "Syria Behind the Lines," produced by our partner WGBH, airs on PBS on Tuesday, April 9th.

"What was shocking [about going to] these Alawite and pro-regime villages was just the amount of fear. And that’s a fear that’s been designed by the regime, I mean the regime is stronger the more fearful it’s supporters are,” explains Lambert. “But the people in these villages are absolutely convinced that they are facing annihilation. They talk openly about genocide and feel that as a minority…there’s a huge sense that they are going to get wiped out."

Lambert notes that these feelings are becoming further entrenched with every passing day of the conflict, fueling and driving the civil war. Higgins says that this escalation can be seen in each side’s weapons of choice. “There’s been an escalation on both sides. So what we’ve seen is on the syrian military side, we’ve seen an increasing range of bombs being deployed, clearly from stockpiles. It almost seems sometimes like they’re working through their warehouses to see what bomb they’ve got to use next.”

“On the opposition side, as they become better equipped and take over military bases, they’ve captured more equipment...So there’s been an escalation on both sides for the entire conflict.”


Our Washington correspondent, Todd Zwillich, is filling in as host all this week. Follow Todd on Twitter for the latest from Capitol Hill.