The Syrian gun market as horoscope

The New York Times reporter C. J. Chivers knows about guns.  A former marine, Chivers is able to verify a defecting Syrian air force captain’s story by asking him an extensive set of questions about Mi-17 munitions and his reports last year from the frontlines in Libya revealed just how brave and unskilled the rebels fighting Gaddafi really were.  Now Chivers offers a prediction for the Syrian conflict based on the local market for arms and munitions.  In short: weapons are expensive so bad things lie ahead.

Mr. Abu Hamed [a former Syrian Army captain who is now a guerrilla commander fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad] leads a battalion near Aleppo. The demand for weapons on his turf is so high, and supplies are so short, he said, that he has had to pay more than $4 for a single rifle or machine-gun cartridge. A Kalashnikov assault rifle, he said, costs $2,000 or more.

In the history of conflict, these are high prices, and they suggest many things worth exploring.

Chivers’s post is worth reading in full as it compares these prices to those in other conflicts and offers a remarkably detailed survey of the various guns at use in the Syrian conflict.  This, he argues, adds a whole new dimension to the videos of firefights — I’ve posted to some of the most remarkable ones here and here — because each bullet fired is progressively bankrupting the civilian population.

If you have a few minutes, sit to watch a few of the uncountable videos made in firefights in Syria this year.

Here are about two minutes of skirmishing, said to be from the outskirts of Hama. The opening of this next video shows the last minutes of an urban assault on a security building in Homs. And this crudely edited post presents a variety of scenes, its producer claims, from recent fighting in Salquin.

This exercise gets progressively harder. When you watch, try to count each bullet fired by the anti-Assad fighters, and try to identify and count the weapons in the hands of the same men. There is no time limit. You can watch each video as many times as you wish. Have paper and pencil ready, and add up the cost of what you see and hear.

Then the prices listed in this post will have a fuller feel, the more so because these videos are only a few minutes long, a tiny sample from a sprawling and potentially long-running war. And the remarks of one fighter will ring true. “People are selling their cars or even houses to raise money to help the fighters,” the fighter said. “But you can sell your house, and it might be enough for a battalion to have one or two hours of big fighting.”

This is another example of the cost of war, literally, in this case waged by a population that has put itself, with little international help, under arms.


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