al Qaeda-Linked Syrian Rebels
The Washington Post
The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to US officials and Syrian figures. The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear -- a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the US role in Syria's civil war.
The arms shipments, which are limited to light weapons and other munitions that can be tracked, began arriving in Syria at a moment of heightened tensions over threats by President Obama to order missile strikes to punish the regime of Bashar al-Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons in a deadly attack near Damascus last month.
The arms are being delivered as the United States is also shipping new types of non-lethal gear to rebels. That aid includes vehicles, sophisticated communications equipment and advanced combat medical kits.
US officials hope that, taken together, the weapons and gear will boost the profile and prowess of rebel fighters in a conflict that started about 2.5 years ago.
Although the Obama administration signaled months ago that it would increase aid to Syrian rebels, the efforts have lagged because of the logistical challenges involved in delivering equipment in a war zone and officials' fears that any assistance could wind up in the hands of jihadists. Secretary of State John F. Kerry had promised in April that the non-lethal aid would start flowing "in a matter of weeks."
The delays prompted several senior US lawmakers to chide the Obama administration for not moving more quickly to aid the Syrian opposition after promising lethal assistance in June. The criticism has grown louder amid the debate over whether Washington should use military force against the Syrian regime, with some lawmakers withholding support until the administration committed to providing the rebels with more assistance...
The latest effort to provide aid is aimed at supporting rebel fighters who are under the command of Gen. Salim Idriss, according to officials, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because part of the initiative is covert. Idriss is the commander of the Supreme Military Council, a faction of the disjointed armed opposition.
US officials, speaking about the provision of non-lethal aid, said they are determined to increase the cohesion and structure of the rebel fighting units.
"This doesn't only lead to a more effective force, but it increases its ability to hold coalition groups together," said Mark S. Ward, the State Department's senior adviser on assistance to Syria, who coordinates non-lethal aid to rebels from southern Turkey...
US officials decided to expand non-lethal assistance to Syria's armed rebels after they delivered more than 350,000 high-calorie US military food packets through the Supreme Military Council in May. The distribution gave US officials confidence that it was possible to limit aid to select rebel units in a battlefield where thousands of fighters share al-Qaeda's ideology, US officials said...
While the State Department is coordinating non-lethal aid, the CIA is overseeing the delivery of weaponry and other lethal equipment to the rebels. An opposition official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss covert arms transfers, said US intelligence personnel have begun delivering long-promised light weapons and ammunition to rebel groups in the past couple of weeks.
The weaponry "doesn't solve all the needs the guys have, but it's better than nothing," the opposition official said. He added that Washington remains reluctant to give the rebels what they most desire: antitank and anti-aircraft weapons.
The CIA shipments are to flow through a network of clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan that were expanded over the past year as the agency sought to help Middle Eastern allies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, direct weapons to moderate Syrian rebel forces.
The CIA declined to comment.
READ FULL SOURCE ARTICLE: 09/11/2013
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