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Insiders: CIA Vetting Syrian Rebels for Receipt of Weapons

A female opposition fighter aims a weapon on Tuesday in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Diplomats and U.S. officials said the CIA is vetting the ability of select Syrian rebels to use weapons it is shipping to Jordan (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center). A female opposition fighter aims a weapon on Tuesday in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Diplomats and U.S. officials said the CIA is vetting the ability of select Syrian rebels to use weapons it is shipping to Jordan (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center).

The CIA is ensuring that selected rebels from Syria can handle weapons it is sending to neighboring Jordan, paving the way for the first U.S.-armed opposition troops to re-enter the country in August, envoys and U.S. government personnel told the Wall Street Journal for a Wednesday report.

The intelligence agency has been stockpiling Soviet-manufactured AK-47s and antitank missiles; the first anti-government fighters to receive lethal U.S. assistance have used such arms in the past. Several hundred more rebels would enter Syria each month with weapons from the United States.

Washington is conferring with capitals including Paris on coordinating European arms transfers into Jordan, and U.S. officials would oversee a possible Saudi effort to transfer 20 or more portable anti-air missiles to certain rebel forces. The Obama administration wants to improve the moderate Supreme Military Council's hand against more extremist opposition groups such as the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate.

It would likely take four or five months for international aid to turn the tide against Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to Saudi and U.S. government sources. Some opposition members worry that foreign arms will arrive too late, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

Obama personnel have linked the U.S. actions to an intelligence conclusion that Assad's forces had employed chemical arms in the country's 2-year-old civil war, which largely through conventional attacks is believed to have killed more than 90,000 people. Turkey's top diplomat conferred on Thursday with the lead international investigator of chemical-strike claims coming out of Syria, Reuters reported.

U.N. task force director Ake Sellstrom has reportedly spoken with Turkish-based witnesses of the alleged attacks, and he is due to prepare a provisional assessment, according to envoys tied to the United Nations. The anticipated July analysis is unlikely to contain firm assertions because Sellstrom cannot determine whether substantiating materials supplied by Western powers had been vulnerable to prior tampering, envoys said.

Neither the United Kingdom nor the United States has turned up indicators that Syrian opposition forces had employed or obtained chemical weapons, a U.N. envoy said in an Associated Press report. Russian President Vladimir Putin last week echoed the Syrian government's call for further investigation of claims that rebels had conducted chemical strikes.

The U.S. House intelligence committee and other congressional panels have demanded more details on the Obama administration's Syria planning before approving any transfer of U.S. intelligence dollars to fund the arms deliveries, AP reported on Wednesday. Some legislators want to know what follow-up steps Washington might take at the United Nations, as well as developments that might prompt military action to restrict flight operations by Damascus.

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey separately said "ensuring that Syria's airplanes don't fly addresses about 10 percent of the problem in terms of the casualties that are taken in Syria."

"If we choose to conduct a no-fly zone, it's essentially an act of war, and I'd like to understand the plan to make peace before we start a war," he told journalists.

NTI Analysis

  • UNSCR 1540 Resource Collection

    Oct. 21, 2013

    The UNSCR 1540 Resource Collection examines implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to implement measures aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring NBC weapons, related materials, and their means of delivery. It details implementation efforts in all of the regions and countries of the world to-date.

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Syria

This article provides an overview of Syria's historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

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