The United States government began shipping toy guns to the Syrian opposition today in an effort to "escalate" Western aid to the cause.
More than 20,000 bright orange Nerf brand toy firearms arrived in the rebel stronghold of Ar-Raqqah today, following what the U.S. State Department called an "vigorous debate" over how far America should go to help the Syrian people in their fight against Bashar Al-Assad's murderous regime.
Although the guns are shaped like real weapons, they are brightly colored, made of plastic, and fire foam bullets with suction cups on the ends.
Military experts are baffled by the move, which they say will be of little utility to the embattled opposition fighters. But a State Department spokesperson defends the shipment, saying the toys can serve several useful purposes
"These Enhanced Non-Lethal Arms Simulation Apparatuses (ENLASAs) can be extremely helpful in training exercises and decoy operations."
American Soft Power
The Syrian Civil pits forces loyal to dictator Bashar Al-Assad against a diverse coalition of opposition groups. The United Nations estimates that since its outbreak in March 2011, the conflict has killed at least 70,000 people and created more than 1 million refugees.
Although the U.S. and Europe have recognized the rebels as the legitimate government of Syria, they have so far refused to directly arm them, leaving the movement exposed to arms and ammunition shortages.
The West's inaction has been criticized by several U.S. leaders, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, who believes lives could be saved if sending armaments led to a quick end to the war.
Several senior figures in the Obama administration are thought to also favor directly arming the rebels, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Director of National intelligence James Clapper.
However, President Obama remains deeply concerned about yet another military entanglement in the Middle East and so far his worries have carried the day.
America's non-intervention policy in Syria stands in stark contrast to its role in oil-rich Libya, where NATO fighter jets were scrambled within hours of the first major regime offensive against rebel forces
Some experts have tried to see the bright side to the new American involvement.
"At least this shows Syria is on their radar", says Bob Barnes, a retired CIA officer and military munitions analyst. "And I dunno. I wouldn't say it's useless. You could probably put someone's eye out if you aimed it really well.
"But against an AK-47 it wouldn't be my first choice."
The reaction inside Syria, however, has been less restrained. Our correspondent in Ar-Raqqah spoke to one rebel leader who was livid about the American shipment.
"What the f**k is this? Are you f*****g serious? Nerf guns? People are dying in the streets and they're sending us Nerf guns?
"What am I supposed to do? Laugh my opponents to death? If I show up to a battle with a f*****g Nerf gun, that's the only way the enemy is going to die."
The outrage in Syria over the toy guns is causing some to believe the administration may finally change its policy and arm the rebels after all.
But Bryan Woodman, a Switzerland-based energy policy analyst, says the very limited American involvement is likely to continue.
"Syria doesn't exactly have any oil, so this is the best we can do."