The Washington Post reports: The CIA is preparing to deliver arms to rebel groups in Syria through clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan that were expanded over the past year in an effort to establish reliable supply routes into the country for nonlethal material, U.S. officials said.
The bases are expected to begin conveying limited shipments of weapons and ammunition within weeks, officials said, serving as critical nodes for an escalation of U.S. involvement in a civil war that has lately seen a shift in momentum toward the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria experts cautioned that the opposition to Assad remains a chaotic mix of secular and Islamist elements, highlighting the risk that some American-provided munitions may be diverted from their intended recipients.
But U.S. officials involved in the planning of the new policy of increased military support announced by the Obama administration Thursday said that the CIA has developed a clearer understanding of the composition of rebel forces, which have begun to coalesce in recent months. Within the past year, the CIA also created a new office at its headquarters in Langley to oversee its expanding operational role in Syria. [Continue reading…]
Politico: “Arming the rebels … I don’t think it will really matter a whole lot,” said Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution. “That, by itself, is not enough to tip the balance decisively one way or the other. … It’s taken the administration a year and a half to get to the point I think that they should have been at a year and a half ago, so it’s hard for me to imagine them doing a 180.”
“The tendency so far by the administration has been to escalate slowly — and perhaps too slowly,” said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I would be surprised if the administration escalated suddenly to the highest level.”
Cordesman said the White House may have missed the moment when the rebels had enough momentum that modest increases in U.S. military aid might have helped rout the regime.
“A year ago, mortar, light artillery, RPG-type systems, enough ammunition and overcoming the lack of training, that might have made a decisive difference,” said the analyst. Now, “it can only buy time.”
“We have to all admit the rebels are losing now,” Hamid added. “Just providing some more advanced weapons, even if does have an impact, that will be many months before we see tangible results of that. I just think the ground that has to be gained by the rebels at this point is so much that I don’t see how weapons are enough.”
Notably, White House officials did not claim that the new assistance would fundamentally alter the military balance between the regime and the rebels.