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Thursday saw The White House state that Syria crossed the “red line” after using chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war there. As a result, President Obama agreed to sending arms to some rebels. The timing of the decision was somewhat off as prior to President Obama’s concrete answer on the issue Senator John McCain(R-Arizona) told the Senate “The president also will announce that we will be assisting the Syrian rebels by providing them with weapons and other assistance. I applaud the president’s decision.”
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Senator McCain has been in regular contact with the Free Syrian Army on the civil war after his trip there and has been pushing for more support for the rebels. The Supreme Military Council—a wing of a larger group of factions in league against President Bashar Assad’s regime—will be given the weapons for their cause.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes stated that U.S intelligence gathered that Syria used sarin nerve gas was used in Aleppo and near the Syrian capital of Damascus between March and May. The attacks are said to have killed some 100 to 150 people according to U.S officials. The investigation occurred when a United Nations probe was blocked by President Bashar Assad. During this time, President Obama issued the warning that use of chemical weapons would result in the United States responding to the action. The “response” was never made specific and at the time could’ve meant the combat effective support such as anti-tank weaponry, guns, and ammo that the rebel requested or tactically effective supplies such as armor and communication devices.
Ben Rhodes said that President Obama is said to be approaching this situation carefully and not going as far as issuing a no-fly zone in Syria or putting soldiers on the ground which Senator McCain and supporters of the rebels’ cause have been pushing for. “People need to understand that not only are there huge costs associated with a no-fly zone, not only would it be difficult to implement, but the notion that you can solve the very deeply rooted challenges on the ground in Syria from the air are not immediately apparent.” To elaborate on his point, he said that throughout Syria it would simply be difficult to effective put the no-fly zone and resulting retaliation for the zone being violated in place because of the make up and blend of factions and civilians on both sides of the conflict.
As stated, the Obama administration hadn’t decided what level of assistance to provide and will be meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the G8 economic summit next week where the issue is likely to turn up. This actual shaping of this conflict will depend in part on the kind and amount of weapons provided. The rebels are looking at heavy arms that wouldn’t require much training or finesse to make use of and can be utilized quickly as opposed to the training that would be required to effectively use small arms.
Time is a resource that is fleeting in this conflict so training would need to be kept to a minimum—hence part of the reason for large arms. The other reason for this is that the rebels simply need arms that will make a dent against the opposition–something that could turn the conflict. It should be noted that in April, it was announced that $127 million in nonlethal aid—communication devices, armored vehicles, etc.—was announced, but has yet to reach the rebels.
Dan Layman, Syrian Support Group spokesman based in Washington commented that General Salim Idris—commander of the SMC—needed weapons to stave off the Syrian government around Aleppo. “We have been in contact with General Idris in the past few days, and his requests are the same: communications equipment, antitank weaponry, antiaircraft weaponry, and enough small arms ammunition to help him defend Aleppo, which is about to be under siege by nearly 20,000 regime and regime-allied forces.”
The Deputy National Security Adviser, Ben Rhodes said that the U.S would offer the proof of sarin or chemical gas usage to the U.N, the Congress, and the public. Included would be notes about attacks and their plotting as well as symptoms related to chemical weapons use in the case of Damascus and Aleppo. The information on chemical weapons use will also come with samples. It is possible that notes from French investigators—who determined that Assad’s forces made use of chemical weapons in attacks—could be included. Rhodes went on to reject Assad’s notion that the rebels used chemicals and that there was no evidence otherwise.