White House plan to arm Syrian rebels stalled, as Congress doubts Obama's strategy

Republicans, Democrats united in doubts that US plan has shown it can succeed in channeling arms to non-al-Qaida rebels only.

By JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
July 13, 2013 19:26
2 minute read.
Obama speaks, June 25, 2013

Obama gestures as he speaks into microphone 521. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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WASHINGTON -- Over a month after the White House announced plans to provide light arms to Syria's opposition forces in their fight against Bashar Assad, no shipments have been dispatched, frustrating the Obama administration as it awaits approval from a skeptical Congress.

The intelligence committees in both the House and Senate are required to sign off on a release of funding for such an operation. But in a rare case of bipartisanship, neither party nor chamber committee appears willing to do so after Obama presented his plans to sitting members.

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Sources speaking to The Jerusalem Post cite a prevailing worry that the administration does not have a strategy thorough enough to prevent the transfer of such weapons to al-Qaida or its affiliates.

For a covert operation to go forward, the president must send a 'finding' to the intelligence committees in which he explains the rationale for his plan and requests an appropriation of money for the project.

While it's possible for an operation to proceed without approval from Congress, the Central Intelligence Agency risks having to eat the cost of the operation from somewhere else in their existing budget if Congress fails to approve of it.

Such consensus for delay in the intelligence committees, as there is today on Syria, is an extremely rare occurrence, says Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution.

"It's very unusual, and very unusual for there to be this much resistance coming from both sides of the aisle, both Republicans and Democrats," Riedel told the Post. "The sense on the Hill is that the administration doesn't have a coherent program or mission, and it doesn't have a mechanism to ensure that weapons don't fall into the wrong hands."

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For the delivery of arms and ammunition to begin, Riedel says, "the administration needs to come back to the Congress with a new plan that the committees feel comfortable with."

That may take several weeks more, Riedel notes, when these transactions often take two weeks or less under such pressing circumstances.

Administration officials have voiced aggravation that many of the same elected officials that have publicly called on the White House to more aggressively back the rebels are now privately stalling the process.

Secretary of State John Kerry, Vice President Joe Biden and CIA director John Brennan have reached out to those wavering intelligence committee members to reassure them on the submitted finding, Reuters reported this week, with little success.

Syria has become a proxy war for the region, where predominantly Sunni nations have continued to increase arms shipments to Syrian opposition fighters while Shi'ite-dominant Iran and Hezbollah have provided Assad with light ammunition, heavy arms, and substantial manpower.

The White House announced its new plan to arm Syria's rebels as Assad began to turn the tide of the war in his favor.

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