US to arm Syrian rebels, but treads cautiously
UNDER FIRE: A Free Syrian Army fighter runs for cover near Nairab military airport in Aleppo on Wednesday. WASHINGTON — After more than two years on the sidelines, US President Barack Obama is going to start arming Syrian rebels but that is unlikely to reverse the recent momentum won by the government and its Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah allies any time soon. Mr Obama’s decision to send US weapons to opposition fighters came as the White House announced it had proof that President Bashar al-Assad’s government had used chemical weapons against rebel forces in the civil war.
"Information about the use by Assad of chemical weapons has been fabricated in the same place as the lies about (Saddam) Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction," Alexei Pushkov, head of the foreign policy committee in the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, said on Twitter. With rebel forces desperate for weapons after battlefield setbacks like the fall of the strategic town of Qusair, Mr Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said only that the president had decided to ramp up military support to the opposition both in "scope and scale".
A US official said this would include sending weapons to the Syrian insurgents. That marks a shift in longstanding US policy against lethal aid, which sought to keep war-weary Washington from being drawn into another conflict in the Middle East.
Obama administration officials have said any arming of the rebels would likely be limited to small arms and ammunition rather than anti-aircraft weapons, which could have an immediate impact on the battlefield. The New York Times reported that the supplies, to be co-ordinated by the Central Intelligence Agency, might include anti-tank weapons.
The arrival of thousands of seasoned, Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters to help Mr Assad combat the mainly Sunni rebellion has shifted momentum in the two-year-old war, which the United Nations said on Thursday had killed at least 93,000 people. Thursday’s announcements followed a series of urgent White House meetings on Syria amid mounting pressure at home and abroad for Mr Obama to act more forcefully in the conflict, including a sharp critique of his hesitant policy from former president Bill Clinton.
The meetings reportedly exposed divisions among Mr Obama’s aides on the issue.... Read the full, comprehensive news article and discuss at Business Day