Exclusive: U.S. congressional hurdles lifted on arming Syrian rebels

WASHINGTON Tue Jul 23, 2013 6:23am EDT

1 of 3. Free Syrian Army fighters move through a hole in a wall in the northern town of Khan al-Assal, after seizing it July 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Hamid Khatib

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will move forward with a plan for the United States to arm the struggling Syrian rebels after some congressional concerns were eased, officials said on Monday.

"We believe we are in a position that the administration can move forward," House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers told Reuters.

The White House announced in June that it would offer military aid to vetted groups of Syrian rebels after two years of balking at directly sending arms to the opposition.

"We have been working with Congress to overcome some of the concerns that they initially had, and we believe that those concerns have been addressed and that we will now be able to proceed," a source familiar with the administration's thinking told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

But both Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees had expressed worries that the arms could end up in the hands of Islamist militants in Syria like the Nusra Front, and would not be enough to tip the balance of the civil war against President Bashar al-Assad anyway.

Part of the logjam was broken on July 12 when members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who had questioned the wisdom of arming the insurgents decided behind closed doors to tentatively agree that the administration could go ahead with its plans, but sought updates as the covert effort proceeded.

Now, the House committee has also given at least a cautious go-ahead.

"It is important to note that there are still strong reservations," Rogers said. "We got a consensus that we could move forward with what the administration's plans and intentions are in Syria consistent with committee reservations."

The source familiar with the administration's thinking said, "The committees were persuaded and we will be able to move forward."

The timeline was unclear, but supporters of the rebels hope the deliveries of U.S.-provided arms will start in August.

They hope for "a large number of small weapons" such as rifles and basic anti-tank weapons, said Louay Sakka, a co-founder of the Syrian Support Group, which backs the Free Syrian Army fighting Assad.

Committee sessions on arming the rebels are classified and have been held in secret. Senior government figures like Secretary of State John Kerry have briefed lawmakers behind closed doors to persuade them to back the White House's Syria strategy. Rogers said he still had "very strong concerns" about the plan's chances of success.

REBELS LAGGING

The mostly Sunni Muslim rebels have been struggling since government forces, helped by Lebanese Hezbollah allies, took the strategic town of Qusair in early June. Backed by warplanes and artillery, Assad is much better armed than the rebels.

Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, opposes sending U.S. arms to the rebels.

"It's too late to affect the outcome with a small amount of arms," Schiff said. "I think we would have to provide such a massive amount of arms, and additional military support to change the balance on the battlefield, that we would inevitably be drawn deeply into the civil war," he said.

"And I think we also have to expect that some of the weapons we provide are going to get into the hands of those who would use them against us," Schiff said.

He said his view is probably a minority one within the intelligence committee - but that for many Americans, after two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is "little appetite for getting involved in a third."

Obama has been reluctant to intervene in the civil war in Syria, in which more than 100,000 people have died.

"Arms do not make peace," said Lakhdar Brahimi, the special peace envoy for Syria of the United Nations and the Arab League. "We would like to see the delivery of arms stopped to all sides," he told reporters in Washington.

He said the United States and Russia both agreed there was no military solution to the Syrian conflict "even if they are delivering weapons in the hope their side is going to win."

Brahimi said it was possible to find a political solution in efforts to bring together the warring parties for a peace conference in Geneva. "It is extremely difficult to bring (together) people who have been killing one another for two years just by waving a magic wand to a conference like this. It will take time but I hope it will happen."

Supported by Iran and Russia, Assad has looked increasingly stronger in recent months while the opposition has been fractured.

Clashes between Islamist rebel forces and Kurdish militias spread to a second Syrian province last weekend.

The fighting is further evidence that the 2011 uprising against Assad's rule has splintered into turf wars that have little to do with ousting him.

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Alistair Bell, Eric Walsh and Lisa Shumaker)

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Comments (31)
tmc wrote:
Sending aid tot he refugees would be a good thing. Send more arms to our enemies (Al Qaeda and Taliban are the major part of the rebels) is a very bad thing. And we wonder why no one trust us anymore? The United States of Corporate America. Freak’in arms dealers.

Jul 22, 2013 9:34pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Reuters1945 wrote:
“Exclusive: U.S. congressional hurdles lifted on arming Syrian rebels”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Syria, here we come. It’s “Déjà vu” all over again.

Read the story with a calculator in hand and you realize how quickly this new US war will rise to a price tag of 50 Billion dollars per year
and then double and then triple. And that’s just for starters.

That does not take into account all the civilian casualties which Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, readily concedes will occur as collateral damage, which always attends any type of war of this magnitude.

Yes, you guessed it. The invasion of Iraq has topped out at a final expected cost of $ 3,000,000,000,000. (Three Trillion dollars)but that war is now winding down as the US leaves Iraq in the condition of a completely failed State where death and constant violence is the order of the day.

So those who profit from war need new killing fields. New markets for their engines, armaments and munitions of mass warfare.

The assembly lines that turn out the instruments of death must be kept in operation no matter how or who ends up dying. The bottom line is what counts. Must keep those profits sky high. The stock-holders expect it !

If those who have criticized Snowden had the faintest clue as to what the US government has done in the past 12 years they might adjust their opinions about why it was important for someone to pull back the curtains on the way the US government spends the very hard earned money of the hard put upon American taxpayer- whether rich or poor or somewhere in between.

As just one very telling example consider that the US invaded Iraq based entirely on a lie. The entire world now knows that war was predicated on a lie. It is common knowledge.

More than 5,000 brave American service people came back from that war in flag draped coffins leaving behind wives, husbands, parents, sons and daughters.

Another 100,000 came back missing their arms, legs, sight, hearing and many- their sanity.

More than 1,000,000 people in Iraq have been killed so far and as a now failed State, the suicide bombings continue every hour of every day and will continue to occur for decades to come.

America did not bring Democracy to Iraq. America brought eternal chaos and death.

And all those hideous crimes perpetrated against humanity entirely as a result of a war based on lies.

Finally, all the best experts agree that when all is said and done regarding America’s invasion of Iraq, based on lies, that war will have cost America’s tax payers a total of more than $ 3,000,000,000,000. (Three Trillion dollars).

Those who criticize Snowden for trying to inform the American public about what is being done in their name, with their hard earned tax dollars, obviously do not understand or possess the foggiest concept of what $ 3,000,000,000,000. American dollars represents.

For starters it would guarantee every man, woman and child in America with total 100 % full health care insurance coverage for decades without paying one cent in Insurance premiums.

How about rebuilding every school, hospital and airport in America.

How about totally eliminating hunger in America.

Those who criticize Snowden clearly have much to learn about how human beings, both in the US and abroad, have suffered due to unnecessary wars based upon lies.

Wearing an American flag in your lapel is not what makes a patriotic American. Wanting to clean up America’s government and get the Lobbyists and the grifters and the outright pernicious thieves out of Washington, DC and out of every American’s pocket is what constitutes a patriotic American.

I am proud to be an American who knew people who spilled their precious blood on the sands of the beaches of Normandy in 1944 and the “Battle of the Bulge” and so many other places from which so many tens of thousands of brave Americans never came back because they were prepared to sacrifice their lives upon what President Abraham Lincoln referred to as “The Altar of Freedom”.

Those in Washington who conned America into the Iraq war based on intentional lies, a war which has cost Americans $ 3,000,000,000,000. and counting are the real despicable criminals- not people like Mr. Snowden.

Vietnam, Iraq and now Syria. Wars the US had no business getting into or perhaps it would be better and more precisely honest to say the US got involved in all these wars precisely because of “big business”.

The amazing thing with Syria is that the whole world knows very well who the US plans to support. The so-called “Rebels” include known terrorists and terrorists who are known to resort to summary executions, extreme sadistic savagery and even documented cannibalism.

But the US has decided that is all to be preferred to the present Syrian government.

Yes- the Iraq “adventure” gave the military suppliers a good run for their money. Profits running into the tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars.

But that was then and this is now. There is nothing left in Iraq to bomb. Time to move on and Syria is conveniently close by. How fortunate the US built all those mega military bases in Iraq- among the largest in the world.

And if the suppliers of the instruments of war get lucky, which they always seem to do, the Russians and Iranians will counter any military moves the US executes in Syria. So the business of war will be booming again- just as it was by the US invading Iraq.

The Military Industrial Complex owns Washington. Indeed it is Washington.

And what is so fortunate for the Military Industrial Complex is that in general the American public will go along with every war- at least until it is so clear the whole thing is such a terrible fiasco and so stinks to high Heaven, that even the average American will start to “get it” and say “no more- enough already”.

But by then those who profit from wars will have made their mountains of money and be satisfied that another war, the next war, like Syria for example, is just around the corner.

Anyone who does not understand why the US is always getting into and involved with wars most likely also believes in things like Santa Claus and the Tooth Ferry.

Except instead of the American Santa Claus arriving in a sled pulled by Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, it will be a massive armada of bombers that will darken the skies of long suffering Syria, as they rain destruction and death down on the perceived “evil doers” and innocent civilians alike.

American bombs are known to be “equal opportunity” killers. The one and a half million dead corpses in Iraq can attest to that fact.

Watch for it folks. Here we go again.

God- where are you when humanity needs you most ?

Jul 22, 2013 10:37pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Neurochuck wrote:
There might be more support for arming the insurgents if anyone voting for it agrees to fight alongside their “friends” on the frontlines in Damascus/Aleppo/Homs and keep an eye on the weapons for 3 months.
It would be interesting to see how many make it back, and vote to continue the program, and force their wife and daughters at gunpoint to wear black burkhas.

Jul 22, 2013 10:48pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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