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Obama to step up military support of Syrian rebels

By Julie Pace & Matthew Lee

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 02:35 p.m. HST, Jun 13, 2013

WASHINGTON » President Barack Obama has authorized sending weapons to Syrian rebels for the first time, U.S. officials said today, 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" triggering 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 no decisions had been made on the specific type of weaponry or when it would reach the Syrian rebels, who are under increasing assault from Assad's forces.

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 Hezbollah 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.

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. Up 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.

The U.S. has so far provided the Syrian rebel army with rations and medical supplies. In April, Kerry announced that the administration had agreed in principle to expand its military support to the opposition to include defensive items like night vision goggles, body armor and armored vehicles.

The Syrian fighters have been clamoring for bolder Western intervention, particularly given the estimated 5,000 Hezbollah guerrillas propping up Assad's forces. Assad's stunning military success last week at Qusair, near the Lebanese border, and preparations for offensives against Homs and Aleppo have made the matter more urgent.

While McCain has pressed for a greater role for the U.S. military, other lawmakers have expressed reservations about American involvement in another conflict and fears that weapons sent to the rebels could fall into the hands of al-Qaida-linked groups.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, condemned the Assad regime but expressed serious concerns about the United States being pulled into a proxy war.

"There are many actions that the United States can take to increase our humanitarian assistance to refugee populations and opposition groups short of injecting more weapons into the conflict," Murphy said. "I urge the president to exercise restraint and to consult closely with Congress before undertaking any course of action to commit American military resources to Syrian opposition forces."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, also urged the White House to consult with Congress.

"It is long past time to bring the Assad regime's bloodshed in Syria to an end," he said through a spokesman, Brendan Buck. "As President Obama examines his options, it is our hope he will properly consult with Congress before taking any action."


Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Donna Cassata, Andrew Taylor in Washington and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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juscasting wrote:
If the US was about to be overthrown, I bet we would use every weapon in our arsenal to try to prevent it!
on June 13,2013 | 11:53AM
pcman wrote:
IRT juscasting on IF. I disagree. Destroy the country to prevent being overthrown? We would not use nukes on our own cities and people. You'd have to have a massive conspiracy of thousands of people from the President down to the lowest level missile officers, boomer sub commanders and bomber pilots who would have to execute and illegal order to destroy America. You would also have to retarget the missiles and bombs months in advance under maximum secrecy, which is nearly impossible with hundreds of personnel that would be involved.
on September 12,2013 | 08:31AM
Sunny wrote:
Launch a couple of drone strikes against Assad!
on June 13,2013 | 12:00PM
hanalei395 wrote:
And another war. ... This time ....The U.S. / Syria War.
on June 13,2013 | 01:18PM
hanalei395 wrote:
A Republican dream ....a war with Syria. ..... And 100% Obama's war.
on June 13,2013 | 02:05PM
pcman wrote:
Drones would get shot down by Syria's military. Perhaps drones could be used at night to drop propaganda and warnings for civilians to stay away from Assad's living and working facilities. If we launch anything significant, it should be cruise missiles from our Naval assets on the Syrian coast. First clear out the air and SAM defenses, then take out targets in the Syrian capital where Assad could be located.
on June 13,2013 | 01:24PM
hanalei395 wrote:
The al-Qaeda rebels would agree with that.
on June 13,2013 | 01:45PM
hanalei395 wrote:
For helping al-Qaeda rebels in Libya, the rebels paid the U.S. back with Benghazi. And during the 1980's, with support of billions of $$$$$ and high-tech weapons to the terrorists in Afghanistan, the "founder" of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, paid the U.S. back witth 9/11.
on June 13,2013 | 02:24PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Some red lines are more important than other red lines, I guess.
on June 13,2013 | 01:24PM
pcman wrote:
IRT justcasting. I can't see using WMDs against terrorists in the US capital area.
on June 13,2013 | 01:33PM
Anonymous wrote:
Obama only knows how to talk. Red lines, blue lines, gray lines. He's all talk and Assad, the Russians, the Chinese etc. all know it. He is not going to do anything in Syria except talk. He's a balloon!
on June 13,2013 | 02:03PM
fiveo wrote:
US has conclusive evidence that Assad used chemical weapons. Does this sound familiar as in Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. Remember that. I don't believe Assad would be so foolish to use "weapons of mass destruction as he is well aware that this would provide the US and its allies the excuse to intervene just as has been announced today. Very questionable intelligence. The so called "Syrian rebels" (mostly Al Queda devotees) are probably responsible for using the poison gas that the US claims Assad's forces are alleged to have used. Advise you all watch which politicians are pushing for war and intervention. Another war in which we do not have any business getting involved, especially since we would be allied with Al Queda. I thought they and the devout muslims were our enemies. It is the middle east after all. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
on June 13,2013 | 02:55PM
Grimbold wrote:
Fiveo right! It was either planted by another Party or never happened.
on June 13,2013 | 03:48PM
Grimbold wrote:
So now our foolish President Supports our worst enemy the rebels, which are mostly Islamic Radicals- Unbelievable. I believe there either was no Sarin anywhere, or if it was detected, a Country's secret service like Israel which has an interest to discredit Assad planted it.
on June 13,2013 | 03:47PM
sailfish1 wrote:
Obama better make sure that Congress agrees fully with supplying arms to the Syrian rebels. Giving arms to Al Qaeda will be a BIG mistake and Obama better have total support from Congress.
on June 13,2013 | 05:52PM
Skyler wrote:
This sounds like a really, really bad idea...
on June 13,2013 | 08:10PM
hikine wrote:
I wonder why the US has to put it's nose to every middle eastern conflict that has been happening for thousands of years! We are not the great savior for all wars and conflicts! And why are we still in Afghanistan?! Religious wars has been going on for generations and Obama thinks he can stop it! Beware of false prophets!
on June 13,2013 | 10:36PM
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