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With Syrian Chemicals Gone, U.S. Moves to Aid Rebels

A Syrian rescue worker points toward a burning building after an alleged Syrian army airstrike in Aleppo earlier this month. The Obama administration on Thursday said it is seeking $500 million for a new Pentagon program to train and equip rebels in Syria. A Syrian rescue worker points toward a burning building after an alleged Syrian army airstrike in Aleppo earlier this month. The Obama administration on Thursday said it is seeking $500 million for a new Pentagon program to train and equip rebels in Syria. (Khaled Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. officials unveiled new plans to support enemies of Syria's regime, days after it finished surrendering chemical arms, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The White House on Thursday asked lawmakers to fund a $500 million Defense Department initiative to supply weapons and training to moderate opponents of President Bashar Assad's government. The Obama administration previously avoided seeking substantial support for Syria's rebels, reportedly over fears that such aid could have prompted Damascus to stop transferring chemical weapons out of the country's violence-stricken territory.

On Monday, though, international authorities confirmed the removal of the regime's final known chemical arms, ending a fast-track disarmament drive launched late last year. Assad's regime has denied ever employing its stockpile of warfare agents in combat, but agreed to give up the arsenal amid threats of an international military response to an August 2013 sarin-gas attack.

The proposed Pentagon program would support or supplant a smaller CIA-led operation initiated in 2013. According to one high-level Obama insider, the new Defense Department effort and other U.S. activities would "help build the capacity of the moderate Syrian opposition and our partners in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq to manage the growing spillover effects of the Syrian conflict."

Regional military gains by Islamic extremists recently prompted Obama's planners to more than double their funding request for the potential Syria aid program, administration sources said.

The initiative received early endorsement from key lawmakers, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a longtime advocate of providing greater aid to anti-Assad forces, said the proposal would likely receive strong support from both political parties.

"The idea of ignoring Syria and letting it deteriorate is not working out well for us," he said.

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