Obama Seeks $500 Million to Equip Syrian Rebels
The Obama administration has proposed a $500 million program to train and equip the moderate opposition fighting in Syria, officials said Thursday, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The increased spending is part of the administration's annual request for supplemental funding for the Afghan war and other overseas operations, the report said.
Current U.S. training for the Syrian opposition forces is conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency, with a limited number of fighters receiving training each month.
Caitlin Hayden, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the funding request would allow the Department of Defense to begin a training program for Syrian rebel fighters who have been vetted.
"These funds would help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats, and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement," she said in a statement quoted by The Wall Street Journal.
The budget unveiled Thursday also would provide $1.5 billion to help stabilize Syria's neighbors, including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.
Over the last few weeks there has been increased speculation that the United States would indeed provide military training and perhaps even weapons to the moderate rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
Small-scale weapons aid and some military training has already been supplied to select rebel groups, along with "non-lethal" aid such as medical supplies and other equipment, but both Congressional caution and a hesitant White House have prevented anything further, mainly due to fear that the jihadist rebel groups would get their hands on any weapons.
Two weeks ago, Obama's nominee to be ambassador to Qatar, said that the administration supported language in a Senate defense bill that would allow overt military training to the rebels.
A leading Syrian opposition figure recently said that western states could send desperately-needed arms to rebel groups in Syria "within weeks" and a recent report indicated that Obama is close to authorizing a military-led mission to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight the regime and Al-Qaeda-linked groups.
In May, Syrian opposition chief Ahmad Jarba said that rebels fighting to oust Assad need "efficient weapons to face these attacks including air raids, so we can change the balance of power on the ground."
He later met with Secretary of State John Kerry, who said Washington supports the Syrian opposition but made no mention of the rebels' plea for heavy weapons to help end the war.