U.S. Officials: Obama to Step up Military Support of Syrian Rebels


President Barack Obama has authorized sending weapons to Syrian rebels for the first time, U.S. officials said Thursday, after the White House disclosed that the United States has conclusive evidence President Bashar Assad's government used chemical weapons against opposition forces trying to overthrow him.

Obama has repeatedly said the use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line," suggesting it would trigger greater American intervention in the two-year crisis.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the strongest proponents of U.S. military action in Syria, said he was told Thursday that Obama had decided to "provide arms to the rebels," a decision confirmed by three U.S. officials. The officials cautioned that decisions on the specific type of weaponry were still being finalized, though the CIA was expected to be tasked with teaching the rebels how to use the arms the White House had agreed to supply.

Still, the White House signaled that Obama did plan to step up U.S. involvement in the Syrian crisis in response to the chemical weapons disclosure.

"This is going to be different in both scope and scale in terms of what we are providing," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser.

The U.S. has so far provided the Syrian rebel army with rations and medical supplies.

Thursday's announcement followed a series of urgent meetings at the White House this week that revealed deep divisions within the administration over U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war. The proponents of more aggressive action — including Secretary of State John Kerry — appeared to have won out over those wary of sending weapons and ammunition into a war zone where Hizbullah and Iranian fighters are backing Assad's armed forces, and al-Qaida-linked extremists back the rebellion.

Obama still opposes putting American troops on the ground in Syria and the U.S. has made no decision on operating a no-fly zone over Syria, Rhodes said.

U.S. officials said the administration could provide the rebels with a range of weapons, including small arms, ammunition, assault rifles and a variety of anti-tank weaponry such as shoulder-fired remote-propelled grenades and other missiles. However, a final decision on the inventory has not been made, the officials said.

Most of those would be weapons the opposition forces could easily use and not require much additional training to operate. Obama's opposition to deploying American troops to Syria makes it difficult to provide much large-scale training. Other smaller- scale training can be done outside Syria's borders.

A U.S. official said the CIA and special operations trainers have already been training Syrian rebels on the use of anti-aircraft weaponry provided by the Persian Gulf states, as well as encrypted communications equipment, and was expected to run the expanded training program as well.

All of the officials insisted on anonymity in order to discuss internal administration discussions.

Word of the stepped up assistance followed new U.S. intelligence assessments showing that Assad has used chemical weapons, including sarin, on a small scale multiple times in the last year.

U.S. intelligence estimates 100 to 150 people have been killed in those attacks, the White House said, constituting a small percentage of the 93,000 people killed in Syria over the last two years.

The White House said it believes Assad's regime still maintains control of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles and does not see any evidence that rebel forces have launched attacks using the deadly agents.

The Obama administration announced in April that it had "varying degrees of confidence" that sarin had been used in Syria. But they said at the time that they had not been able to determine who was responsible for deploying the gas.

The more conclusive findings announced Thursday were aided by evidence sent to the United States by France, which, along with Britain, has announced it had determined that Assad's government had used chemical weapons.

Obama has said repeatedly that the use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" and constitute a "game changer" for U.S. policy on Syria, which until now has focused entirely on providing the opposition with nonlethal assistance and humanitarian aid.

The White House said it had notified Congress, the United Nations and key international allies about the new U.S. chemical weapons determination. Obama will discuss the assessments, along with broader problems in Syria, next week during the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland.

Among those in attendance will be Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of Assad's most powerful backers. Obama and Putin will hold a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of the summit, where the U.S. leader is expected to press his Russian counterpart to drop his political and military support for the Syrian government.

"We believe that Russia and all members of the international community should be concerned about the use of chemical weapons," Rhodes said.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said his country was "not surprised by the determination made by the U.S. government," given its own assessments, and was in consultation with the Americans about next steps.

Comments 12
Missing greatpierro 14 June 2013, 09:07

Seems that they have waited for hizbullah and Iran to be well till their neck dug into the war in Syria to start help the rebels. This is what we call a war of attrition. Every one will lose at this game. Hope that the Iranian Syrian hizbullah axis will lose more so we can get rid of this evil.

Missing plantmorecedar 14 June 2013, 20:37

Mowaten, the U.S has been responsible for coordinating and testing different supply channels. They contracted the Jordanians to train some individuals, although it was at such a small scale that they let the Jordanians try out some new doctrines, and the operation has been largely run by the local government. The U.S has made no effort to directly arm the troups, and surprisingly, neither has Saudi Arabia. Qatar has been largely responsible for the funds, and some donations from Sunni elements throughout the region, try not to bulk up people into a single category. Not everyone is donating free guns and funds, otherwise a disgruntled and poorly organized military would not have survived this long.

Missing plantmorecedar 14 June 2013, 20:48

My dear boy, you have been trailing these forums with enough complicit bullsh*t, that it hurts my eyes to read what you have to say.

You are supporting a group that is highly active in Syria, and that is helping a dictator, who has never shown any benevolence or restrain towards Lebanese affairs. Those same people, and their whole bloodline have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians, and I do wish you'd remember history, and constant pillage of the country you claim to represent. You are a terrorist if you support these people, just as we'd be denying justice to hundreds of people who fell at the hands of Israel. The difference is, that Israel is not in Lebanon to the same extent that Syria and Iran are. This is a irreversible fact, and I do hope, that if you don't begin criticizing both sides, that you end up ejected where linear beliefs are more tolerated. You are an extremist, you exhume double standards, and you are no Lebanese.

Thumb mckinl 14 June 2013, 10:13

Too little ... too late ... and Obama knows it. This will accomplish two goals. The first, take the heat off from the war mongers and second, pretend that the US has bargaining chips in the upcoming talks.

Missing realist 14 June 2013, 10:19

I disagree, this is big news because it means that the US is now officially involved on the ground, that means it won't back off until the objective is accomplished, I think the scenario of the Balkans will be repeated, the biggest loser in all this is iran , perhaps even the Russians have tricked Iran to get deeper into this. At the end of the day the US and Russia will reach a deal and Assad couldend up like milosovish. How long this will be remains to be Seen. But this will definitely lead to more serious negotiations. The solution will be political and Assad and his thugs will be subtracted from the equation.

Thumb mckinl 14 June 2013, 10:45

The US will not get a "no fly zone". Without that there is little they can do to help the rebels. Obama is just biding his time as Assad consolidates his turnaround across western Syria.

Missing plantmorecedar 14 June 2013, 20:49

The Afghanis didn't need a no fly zone vs the Soviets

Thumb jcamerican 14 June 2013, 10:36

Mmmmm. Chemical weapons? Iraq all over again. The difference is no US soldier will be on the ground or in the air. Let them kill each other, like it is happening in Iraq after the good work. Bombs everyday, so the people can feel democracy and freedom.

Missing -karim_m3 14 June 2013, 11:56

Wow, FSA-Al Qaeda must be REALLY falling apart if everybody is panicking and scrambling to help them!

Down with Al Qaeda terrorism!

Thumb dandoun 14 June 2013, 19:20

there goes another george BUSH !!!!!!!1

Missing plantmorecedar 14 June 2013, 20:50

If he goes through with this, it will be the end of the Syrian regime as we know it.

Default-user-icon Anonymous (Guest) 15 June 2013, 21:30

You guys are not looking deep enough into this situation. What is the one thing Obama wants from this whole situation? It has to do with greed and something that we Americans for some reason think we have the right to... Oil. Obama is thinking that if he can help these Syrian rebels overthrow Assad that he will have good connections with the new leader which will cause us to get fuel cheaper or just that Obama will ask for it in return for helping overthrow Assad. I tell you this though, Russia will step in for Assad and we will fall. I love my country very much but we have exhausted our funds to the brink of total collapse and we will not last this war. Just take this as our last attempt to stay above water. Get ready people.