The U.S. has increased its military aid to Syrian rebels, as some of the more moderate rebels have been recently seen using American TOW anti-tank missiles. Such American arms aid has long been limited because of fears that high-tech weapons would fall into the hands of Islamic terrorist groups and later be used for terror attacks against Westerners.
The TOW is still widely carried by armored and unarmored vehicles and is still effective for precision fire support for infantry. TOW uses a thin wire for guidance, which limits its range to about 3,700 meters. Wireless weapons have up to twice the range. TOW has been in service since 1970, and over 500,000 have been manufactured. All versions are shipped, and fired from, a sealed launch tube. The 1970 version weighed 19 kg (42 pounds) and had a 3.9 kg (8.6 pound) warhead. The latest version (TOW 2B or BGM-71F) weighs 22.7 kg (50 pounds) and has a 6.2 kg (13.5 pound) warhead that can defeat ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor). The missiles are fired from a launcher, which includes a mount, fire control system and battery. This weighs 92.8 kg (204.6 pounds) and is the main reason why TOW tends or be operated from a vehicle.
The last time TOW destroyed tanks was in 2003, during the Iraq invasion, but it was since used frequently against enemy strongholds in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is how it will often be used in Syria. TOW has gotten high praise from operators throughout its four decades of use and appears to have a decade or more of life left in it. TOW was innovative for the 1970s but has not been able to evolve fast enough to compete with new designs. So the U.S. feels safe in letting Syrian rebels use it.
Portable anti-aircraft missiles are another matter. The rebels keep asking for these so they can shoot back at Syrian warplanes and helicopters. But the U.S. is paralyzed by fears of Islamic terrorists getting the missiles and later shooting down a Western airliner. The Arab states who support the rebels consider the American weapons restrictions short sighted, although they have complied with American demands to not give the Syrian rebels anti-aircraft missiles. Thus these Arab states have not gone ahead and obtained anti-aircraft missiles on the black market and passed them on to the rebels.
Some American officials are backing limited air strikes against the government forces but U.S. military leaders point out that this could easily result in civilian casualties that Syria would exploit in the media. American military experts suggest providing more training and making an effort to stay in touch with as many rebel factions as possible. This is because if the Islamic terrorists in Syria are likely to be a global threat no matter who wins in Syria. There are believed to be over 20,000 thousand Islamic terrorists in Syria and over a third of these are from outside Syria. Fewer than a thousand are from Western countries and these are being carefully monitored. If the rebels win then Syria becomes another Libya. There the locals have to become uncomfortable with all the Islamic terrorists they are providing sanctuary before there is a crackdown. This process can take years, because Libyans are not eager to fight yet another war and, for religious and cultural reasons, many Moslems see the Islamic terrorists as heroes, not the murderous thugs they really are. Moslems are slow to turn on Islamic terrorists in part because that is a very dangerous move. The Islamic terrorists are quick to kidnap, torture and kill. Moreover many Moslems are smitten with the idea that the Islamic terrorists might overthrow the unpopular governments so common in the Islamic world and replace the dictator/monarch with something better. Despite the fact that this never happens, hope springs eternal.