US President Barack Obama has called on Congress to approve $500 million to train and equip vetted Syrian rebels, in what would be a significant escalation of US involvement in the conflict.
Following several signals in recent weeks by the Obama administration – and months of pressure from legislators like Senator John McCain – the White House said it intends to “ramp up US support to the moderate Syrian opposition.”
It proposed the funding for “vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition to help defend the Syrian people, stabilise areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats, and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement.”
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has asked his staff to develop more detailed plans to train and equip the rebels, Reuters news agency reported.
The funds would allow the US military to “train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the moderate Syrian armed opposition.” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.
In a separate statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the funding “would build on the administration’s long-standing efforts to empower the moderate Syrian opposition” and allow the Pentagon to increase its support to vetted armed rebels.
Washington has been studying options for providing additional assistance to rebel forces beyond the existing aid, which includes mainly “non-lethal” support, AFP news agency reported.
About $287 million in mainly non-lethal support has been cleared for the rebels since March 2011, and the CIA has participated in a secret military training programme in neighbouring Jordan for the ‘moderate’ opposition.
The $500 million in aid is part of a proposed $1.5 bn “regional stabilisation initiative” to bolster stability in Syrian neighbours Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, and to support communities hosting refugees.
Hayden said US officials “continue to believe that there is no military solution to this crisis and that the United States should not put American troops into combat in Syria.”
But she stressed that the request for the rebels would help Syrians “push back against the growing number of extremists like ISIL, who find safe-haven in the chaos, and take their future into their own hands by enhancing security and stability at local levels.”