CIA Puts 'Boots on the Ground' in Syria
September 6, 2013
Raf Sanchez / The Telegraph & Colin Freeman / The Telegraph
The first cell of Syrian rebels trained and armed by the CIA is making its way to the battlefield, President Barack Obama has reportedly told senators. As Obama begins the task of persuading Congress to grant approval for air strikes on Syria, there are a number of the key issues to consider.
First Syria Rebels Armed and Trained by CIA 'On Way to Battlefield'
Raf Sanchez / The Telegraph
WASHINGTON, DC (September 3, 2013) -- During a meeting at the White House, the president assured Senator John McCain that after months of delay the US was meeting its commitment to back moderate elements of the opposition.
Mr. Obama said that a 50-man cell, believed to have been trained by US Special Forces in Jordan, was making its way across the border into Syria, according to the New York Times.
The deployment of the rebel unit seems to be the first tangible measure of support since Mr. Obama announced in June that the US would begin providing the opposition with small arms.
Congressional opposition delayed the plan for several weeks and rebel commanders publicly complained the US was still doing nothing to match the Russian-made firepower of the Assad regime.
Mr. McCain has been a chief critic of the White House's reluctance to become involved in Syria and has long demanded that Mr. Obama provide the rebels with arms needed to overthrow the regime.
He and Senator Lindsey Graham, a fellow Republican foreign policy hawk, emerged from the Oval Office meeting on Monday cautiously optimistic that Mr. Obama would step up support for the rebels.
"There seems to be emerging from this administration a pretty solid plan to upgrade the opposition," Mr. Graham said.
He added that he hoped the opposition would be given "a chance to speak directly to the American people" to counter US fears that they were dominated by al-Qaeda sympathisers.
"They're not trying to replace one dictator, Assad, who has been brutal... to only have al-Qaeda run Syria," Mr. Graham said.
The US announced in June, following the first allegations the Assad regime had used chemical weapons, that it would send light arms to the rebels but refused to provide anti-aircraft missiles and other heavy weapons.
American concerns were born partly out of the experience of Afghanistan in the 1980s, when CIA weapons given to the anti-Russian mujahideen were later used by the Taliban.
Syria Airstrikes: Eight Things You Need to Know about What Happens Next
Colin Freeman / The Telegraph
(September 2, 2013) -- Will President Obama win Congressional approval? It isn't guaranteed. Although Mr. Obama’s Democrats have the majority in the US Senate, the House of Representatives is controlled by the Republicans, who may be less disposed to back his decision.
The "yes" vote could also be split by more hawkish Republicans who want the US to go further. The former presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, has said he may oppose the use of force unless it is tied to a wider military effort in Syria.
A "no" vote would be hugely damaging to Mr. Obama's leadership, given that he himself has already backed military action. He is hoping that his fellow politicians will vote according to what is in the wider world's best interests, rather than using it as a chance to score political points.
Mike Rogers, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said on Sunday that he thought Congress would rise to the occasion, telling CNN: “This is a national security issue...This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats.” But neither he nor Mr. Obama can count on it.
Why has Mr. Obama sought Congressional approval in the first place? I thought he didn't need it?
He doesn't. But in 2011, he drew flak from both sides of America's political divide for not seeking Congressional authorisation to take part in the airstrikes campaign that unseated Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.
When will the vote take place?
Congress is due to reconvene on September 9, and the vote is expected to take place within days of that.
Will the delay make any difference in terms of the effectiveness of military action?
President Obama has quoted his senior military advisors as telling him that an attack would be "effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now". The Syrian government is, of course, moving its key assets around, trying to make sure that they do not get targeted. But it has been doing that ever since the talk of the strikes first began last month anyway.
What will the US try to hit?
The targets will probably be important military installations like arms dumps, air bases and communications centres. The idea is not to try to topple President Assad altogether, but to warn him not to use chemical weapons again….
Could Mr. Obama press ahead with airstrikes even if Congress votes against it?
Technically, yes. But just as his role as commander-in-chief is substantially boosted when he has the express support of Congress, so too would it be substantially diminished if he didn't. Given the political capital that Mr. Obama gained from opposing the war in Iraq, he would be unlikely to risk going it alone in Syria. Especially when support for airstrikes against Mr. Assad are limited at best. It would not be worth the politcal gamble.
Would air strikes mean that President Assad would lose the war?
Not as currently envisaged. Serious strikes on his squads of jets and helicopter gunships would make a difference by robbing Mr. Assad of his strategic advantages, but that would require a more intensive bombing campaign. Besides which, with much of the fighting in Syria taking place on a street-to-street basis, it would not necessarily reduce the bloodshed. Indeed, some fear that by levelling the playing field, the Syrian conflict could get even worse.
Lined up against Mr. Assad now are not just anti-government rebels but all manner of al-Qaeda linked fundamentalist groups, which want to turn to Syria into an Islamic caliphate, and which see Mr. Assad's Alawite sect as as apostates. Much as the international community may dislike President Assad, the conflict has evolved now to the point where an all-out collapse of his regime is seen by some as the worst possible outcome.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.