* U.S. officials deny Russian charges Stingers sent to Syria
* State Dept. wants to see Russian evidence on Stingers
* U.S. says surface-to-air missiles of Soviet vintage
By Phil Stewart and Andrew Quinn
WASHINGTON, Oct 24 The United States said on
Wednesday it has not supplied Stinger missiles to Syrian rebel
forces and appeared to question Russian assertions that the
U.S.-made surface-to-air missiles had made their way into the
Stinger missiles could be used against Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad's warplanes and helicopters, which have bombed
residential areas where rebels are hiding. More than 32,000
people have been killed in the conflict.
But in contrast to the Libyan crisis last year, the West has
shown little appetite to arm the Syrian rebels, worried that
weapons would fall into the hands of Islamic militants.
Russia's top military officer, Nikolai Makarov, said
Russia's military had learned that rebel forces "have portable
missile launchers of various states, including American-made
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters at the
Pentagon that "I certainly don't know of us providing any such
missiles in that area."
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United
States had provided no lethal assistance to rebel forces
whatsoever, including Stingers.
"Nor will we," Nuland said, ruling out future transfers of
Asked about the possibility that Stingers reached the rebels
through a third party, she said: "If the Russian Federation has
evidence of Stingers in the hands of the opposition, we'd like
to see it."
After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the CIA,
with Saudi backing, provided sophisticated shoulder-fired
Stinger missiles to Islamic militants seeking to oust Soviet
The missiles played a significant role in the Soviets'
ultimate defeat in Afghanistan. But they also became a major
headache for U.S. and other Western counterterrorism agencies
when anti-Soviet militants morphed into anti-Western militant
factions including al Qaeda.
Aram Nerguizian, a Middle East expert at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, said U.S. efforts to
reclaim loose Stingers after that conflict appear to have helped
keep them off the black market.
Stingers are among the types of shoulder-fired,
surface-to-air missiles commonly referred to as MANPADs.
"While there's emerging evidence that you have MANPADs in
Syria, there's far more evidence pointing to an aging mix of
Soviet-era systems," Nerguizian said, casting doubt on the
One potential source of non-U.S. manufactured MANPADs is
Libya. Intelligence experts believe that hundreds, if not
thousands, of MANPADs were looted from arsenals accumulated by
late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and are available on the
Middle East black market.
Opposition activist footage has shown rebels carrying
surface-to-air missiles made by the former Soviet Union, but
footage of Stingers has yet to appear.
"All of the images that we have seen of MANPADs and
MANPAD-like equipment in Syria has been exclusively of a
Soviet/Warsaw Pact vintage. The SA-7-type vintage," Nuland told
"We have not seen evidence of Stingers."
Russia, which has supported Assad throughout the conflict,
sold his government $1 billion worth of weapons last year and
has made clear it would oppose an arms embargo in the U.N.
The question of whether to arm the rebels has become an
issue in the U.S. presidential election, with Republican
candidate Mitt Romney accusing President Barack Obama of failing
to show leadership in this area.
In their debate on Monday, Romney said the United States
should work with partners to organize the Syrian opposition and
"make sure they have the arms necessary to defend themselves."
Obama said Romney was wrong to suggest that giving rebels
heavy weapons "is a simple proposition that would lead us to be
safer over the long term."