Russian Chief of General Staff, General Nikolai Makarov said on Oct. 24 that the Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad's regime are now armed with man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), including U.S.-made Stinger missiles, RIA Novosti reported. He said Russia has "reliable evidence" that the rebels have the weapons, "including U.S.-made Stingers," but "who delivered them, we need to look into."
Last August, NBC news reported that the rebels had been supplied with unspecified MANPADS, possibly initiated by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or Qatar, which have repeatedly called for lending military support to the Syrian opposition.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said she could not confirm whether the rebels had been supplied with such missiles, and maintained that the United States is against the uncontrolled spread of MANPADS. "We have already made it clear how much we are concerned about the treatment of this type of weapons around the world. We work with governments trying to withdraw MANPADS from circulation," she said on Oct.16.
MANPADS are shoulder-launched missiles which can be carried and fired by one person. Usually guided by infra-red seekers that home in on an aircraft's engine heat, they can often hit targets as high as 13,000 feet at a range of up to a few miles, and are especially dangerous to large and slow aircraft like civilian airliners and helicopters. Several civilian aircraft have been shot down with MANPADS since the late 1970s. The U.S.-made General Dynamics Stinger was supplied in the hundreds to the Mujahideen forces in Afghanistan during the Soviet Union's military campaign in the 1980s.
In 2003, over 95 countries signed the Elements of Export Controls for MANPADS, which was later updated. A further agreement on restricting proliferation of MANPADS was signed in May 2004 by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), including the United States.