As the Syrian government warplane flew overhead, Malik Abu Iskandaroon ran to a storage room and grabbed a Russian-made surface-to-air missile.
Moments later, on the roof of the three-story villa, which serves as air force headquarters for the Harakat Hazm rebel group, he squinted at the threat in the sky.
Missile launcher resting on his shoulder, Abu Iskandaroon prepared to fire. But in the end he refrained, as the Sukhoi fighter jet flew by, miles out of range of his older-generation weapon. As he stood by helpless, the plane fired one rocket toward the town, killing four people.
The Russian-made Igla missiles “can strike a target up to 2 kilometers [1.2 miles] away,” explained Abu Iskandaroon, who defected from a nearby government battalion. But the government warplanes “don’t fly under 4 kilometers.”
Months ago, Harakat Hazm, along with several other Western-backed Syrian rebel groups, appeared on the verge of receiving a strong boost in firepower they hoped would tip the balance of the civil war. In the spring, Harakat Hazm, with an estimated 7,000 fighters, became one of the first Syrian opposition militias to receive a shipment of American-made BGM-71 TOW antitank missiles.
But the U.S. weapons shipments proved to be very few. The advanced weaponry they’d hoped for never arrived.
“It was supposed to be a positive sign for additional American aid,” Harakat Hazm commander 1st Lt. Abdullah Awda said. “But as a missile, it is just a missile like what we were already using.”
Islamic State’s recent advances in northern and eastern Syria have added urgency to the question of delivering new arms to Syrian rebels, to help combat an extremist group now seen as a significant international threat. But the firepower supplied by the West has proved inadequate, and so has the pace of supply.