US promises military aid to Syrian rebels. Now what?

US military aid to Syrian rebels is expected to begin arriving in a few weeks, delivered by the CIA through secret bases in Turkey and Jordan. Reports say it will include light weaponry, but not shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles. The Pentagon also has proposed a partial no-fly zone.

Khalil Ashawi/REUTERS
Free Syrian Army fighters are seen behind sandbags in the Mouazafeen neighborhood in Deir al-Zor on Friday. The Obama administration now says it will provide military aid to the rebels.

The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has crossed President Obama’s “red line” in using chemical weapons to kill rebel soldiers and civilians.

As a result, the Obama administration says it will provide military help to those rebel forces engaged in a civil war that has cost some 93,000 lives.

Now what?

Reports are beginning to outline the weaponry and where it will go. Weapons will likely include automatic rifles, light mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) – but not the shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles known as MANPADS (man-portable air-defense missiles).

The fear is that antiaircraft missiles could end up in the hands of more militant factions fighting in Syria, including Hezbollah and those with connections to Al Qaeda.

"Arming groups whose members likely have links to Al Qaeda and other radical groups, and may not have the ability to secure their weapons, is not only unwise but could increase the amount of weapons in the region and exacerbate the terrorist threat to the US and our allies," US Sen. Tom Udall (D) of New Mexico said in a statement to Fox News Friday.

"I am very skeptical that arming rebels we know little about, and intervening in a Middle East civil war, will serve US interests,” Senator Udall said. He points out that weapons sent to the mujahideen fighting Soviet occupiers in Afghanistan in the 1980s ended up in the hands of the Taliban.

Aid to the rebels will most likely go through Turkey, where the United States is involved in a secret base that Turkey set up with Saudi Arabia and Qatar to direct military and communications aid to Syria's armed opposition, Reuters reports.

“US aid could also go through Jordan where several thousand US troops are on a joint exercise,” according to Reuters. “A further 200 soldiers from the US Army's First Division are also there.”

White House officials so far have declined to detail US military aid to the Syrian rebels, other than to clearly indicate that this does not include “boots on the ground.”

Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona and other lawmakers have been pushing Mr. Obama to institute a no-fly zone in Syria, something the rebels have urged as well.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Pentagon has proposed a partial no-fly zone, enforced from Jordanian territory to protect Syrian refugees and rebels who would train there.

“The military envisages creating a no-fly zone stretching up to 25 miles into Syria which would be enforced using aircraft flown from Jordanian bases and flying inside the kingdom, according to US officials,” The Wall Street Journal reported this week. “The US has already moved Patriot air defense batteries and F-16 fighter planes to Jordan, which could be integral to any no-fly zone if President Barack Obama approves the military proposal.”

“Proponents of the proposal say a no-fly zone could be imposed without a U.N. Security Council resolution, since the US would not regularly enter Syrian airspace and wouldn't hold Syrian territory,” according to this report.

But in a Monitor-hosted luncheon with reporters in April, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said a no-fly zone in Syria would be harder to achieve and maintain than it was in Libya. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said essentially the same thing during a news briefing Friday.

Weapons to Syrian rebels will be delivered by the CIA through clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

“US officials involved in the planning of the new policy of increased military support … said that the CIA has developed a clearer understanding of the composition of rebel forces, which have begun to coalesce in recent months,” the Post reported.

“We have relationships today in Syria that we didn’t have six months ago,” Mr. Rhodes said during the White House briefing Friday. The US is capable of delivering material “not only into the country,” Rhodes said, but “into the right hands.”

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