WASHINGTON (TIP): Even as he has refused to intervene militarily in Iraq where the future of the US installed and supported Maliki government faces a big question mark, President Obama asked Congress, Thursday, June 26, to approve direct U.S. military training for Syrian rebels, according to US officials. Obama asked for $500 million to “train and equip” opposition fighters in Syria who will be vetted by the U.S. to ensure they have no ties to militant Islamists who now control vast territory in Syria and Iraq.
However, U.S. officials said that the program will not begin until basic questions are resolved, such as whether the Pentagon has legal authority to train Syrian rebels, what types of weapons and other assistance they would receive and who would get the training. Those decisions could take months, the officials said. “All that is yet to be worked out, assuming Congress passes it,” said an official, who asked for anonymity. The request for funds was a “place holder,” meant to signal to lawmakers that the administration is considering stepped-up involvement at a time of growing concern in the region and in Congress that the U.S. is staying on the sidelines while instability is spreading, the official said.
If approved, the expenditure would be part of a regional stabilization initiative for which the administration is seeking $1.5 billion, and which would involve collaboration with Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. The CIA has already been providing smallscale training to small numbers of Syrian rebels, but even if the training goes ahead, the Pentagon plan does not envision converting moderate rebel groups into a fighting force that is capable of winning back territory lost to the government of President Bashar Assad and to militant groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Rather, the training would be aimed at improving the U.S.-backed rebels’ ability to hang on to the territory they now hold, in hopes of eventually producing a negotiated settlement to the conflict, official said.