President Barack Obama has asked Congress for $500 million to aid Syria’s rebellion, which would go toward training and equipment for Syrian opposition groups. The program would be an expansion of a previouslycovert campaign to provide aid to moderate rebels, and would come amid growing Middle East violence.
“We’ve got to pay attention to the threats that are emanating from the chaos in the Middle East,” Obama said during a town hall yesterday. The move to aid moderate Syrians is also aimed at offsetting the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, which has launched a series of attacks into Iraq from its base in Syria.
Up to now, the U.S. has only provided small arms and ammunition to Syrian rebel groups, wary that equipment may fall into the hands of al-Qaida or other extremists instead. Syria’s civil war, now three years old, has killed and displaced hundreds of thousands.
Obama hinted at deeper Middle East involvement at his West Point commencement address last month. “In helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos,” he said.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has authorized the Department of Defense to provide “equipment, supplies, training and defense services” to factions of the Syrian opposition. But Gordon Adams, a professor of foreign policy at American University, said that members of Congress were likely to ask where, specifically, the funding is headed. “There’s not a lot of detail here,” he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., though, said that support for the rebels was much needed. “The idea of ignoring Syria and letting it deteriorate is not working out well for us,” he said. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., also indicated support for the move.
The extended funding, if approved, would come from $5 billion fund to promote counterterrorism abroad, which also “includes another $1.5 billion for Syria’s neighbors — including Turkey, Jordan and Iraq — to help those countries secure borders and deal with Syrian refugees,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Officials said aid recipients would be vetted so as to ensure that aid goes to groups that will work in the interest of the United States.