Purported members of Free Syria Army_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama has signed a secret order
authorizing US support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President
Bashar Assad and his government, US sources familiar with the matter
Obama's order, approved earlier this year and known as an
intelligence "finding," broadly permits the CIA and other US agencies to
provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad.
This and other
developments signal a shift toward growing, albeit still circumscribed, support
for Assad's armed opponents - a shift that intensified following last month's
failure of the UN Security Council to agree on tougher sanctions against the
The White House is for now apparently stopping short
of giving the rebels lethal weapons, even as some US allies do just
But US and European officials have said that there have been
noticeable improvements in the coherence and effectiveness of Syrian rebel
groups in the past few weeks. That represents a significant change in
assessments of the rebels by Western officials, who previously characterized
Assad's opponents as a disorganized, almost chaotic, rabble.
when Obama signed the secret intelligence authorization, an action not
previously reported, could not be determined.
The full extent of
clandestine support that agencies like the CIA might be providing also is
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined
A US government source acknowledged that under
provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with
a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.
Reuters reported that, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey had established
a secret base near the Syrian border to help direct vital military and
communications support to Assad's opponents.
This "nerve center" is in
Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles (100 km) from the Syrian border,
which is also home to Incirlik, a US air base where US military and
intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.
Islamist government has been demanding Assad's departure with growing vehemence.
Turkish authorities are said by current and former US government officials to
be increasingly involved in providing Syrian rebels with training and possibly
European government sources said wealthy families in Saudi
Arabia and Qatar were providing significant financing to the rebels. Senior
officials of the Saudi and Qatari governments have publicly called for Assad's
On Tuesday, NBC News reported that the Free Syrian Army had
obtained nearly two dozen surface-to-air missiles, weapons that could be used
against Assad's helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Syrian government armed
forces have employed such air power more extensively in recent days.
said the shoulder-fired missiles, also known as MANPADs, had been delivered to
the rebels via Turkey.
On Wednesday, however, Bassam al-Dada, a political
adviser to the Free Syrian Army, denied the NBC report, telling the
Arabic-language TV network Al-Arabiya that the group had "not obtained any such
weapons at all." US government sources said they could not confirm the MANPADs
deliveries, but could not rule them out either.