The Obama administration on Thursday requested $US500 million from Congress to train and equip rebels of the moderate opposition seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
If approved, it would expand a covert CIA training program and could potentially significantly further U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war, which has raged since 2011. Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council, said rebels would be thoroughly vetted before receiving training and equipment.
“This funding request would build on the Administration’s longstanding efforts to empower the moderate Syrian opposition, both civilian and armed, and will enable the Department of Defence to increase our support to vetted elements of the armed opposition,” Hayden said in a statement.
“While we 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, this request marks another step toward helping the Syrian people defend themselves against regime attacks, 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.”
The $US500 million is part of the Obama administration’s fiscal-year 2015 Overseas Contingency Operations budget request to Congress. It’s also part of a $US5 billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund that Obama announced during a major foreign policy speech in West Point last month.
The action comes as crises in the region continue to blend together, including in Iraq, where insurgent militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have made major gains over the past few weeks. A week ago, Obama said he was sending 300 military advisers to Iraq as part of an effort to train and assist Iraqi security forces.
The crises in the region have made for strange alliances — ISIL had been fighting Assad in Syria before turning its attention toward Iraq. Assad has ordered airstrikes against the group in western Iraq in recent days, according to U.S. officials.
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