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SyriaObama administration wants $500 million to train, equip moderate Syrian rebels

Published 27 June 2014

The Obama administration is planning to escalate U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war, and has asked Congress for $500 million for the U.S. military to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels. The training program would be the most significant action yet by the United States in the conflict in Syria. Yesterday’s (Thursday) request to Congress comes as the administration is looking for effective alternatives to the jihadist ISIS which is now in control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq. The $500 million request is separate from the $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, of which some $1.5 billion would go toward counterterrorism efforts in countries around Syria — Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. The president also wants to set aside $500 million to “address unforeseen contingencies” in counterterrorism, which administration officials said was a reference to developments in Iraq.

The Obama administration is planning to escalate U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war, and has asked Congress for $500 million for the U.S. military to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels.

Obama’s request comes as part of the military policy bill authorizing the Pentagon to “train and equip vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition to help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement.”

The training program would be the most significant action yet by the United States in the conflict in Syria.

Yesterday’s (Thursday) request to Congress comes as the administration is looking for effective alternatives to the jihadist ISIS which is now in control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq.

The New York Times reports that so far, U.S. aid to the Syrian opposition which is fighting Bashar al-Assad, focused on non-lethal provisioning, while the CIA was quietly sending small arms and missiles to moderate Syrian groups the agency had vetted.

Qatar has been supporting jihadist militias in Syria – including ISIS and al-Nusra – with massive amounts of money and weapons.

“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,” Caitlin Hayden, the National Security Council spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The Guardian reports that U.S. military training for the Syrians is likely to take place in Jordan, where the U.S. military already trains its Iraqi counterparts. It is also in keeping with the Obama administration’s preferred approach to counterterrorism, which emphasizes U.S. training of foreign security forces to take the war to the terrorists.

Accordingly, a long-delayed war funding package, known for years as the Overseas Contingency Fund, includes $5 billion for the administration’s Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund.

Some $1.5 billion of that would go into a “regional stabilization initiative” for Syrian neighbors Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.

The president also wants to set aside $500 million to “address unforeseen contingencies” in counterterrorism, namely in Iraq, administration officials said.

The overall size of the wartime funding package, separately from the half-trillion annual defense budget, is $65.8 billion, down from $79.4 billion. Much of that money will go to funding the Afghanistan war, now that Obama clarified that 2014 will not be the end of the war but rather the end of most U.S. combat operations in the country.

The White House has already made it clear that a reduction in U.S. troops does not mean that funding for the Afghanistan war will “decline precipitously.” Instead, the White House said in a statement, “significant costs” will remain, both for the logistically complex and expensive process of removing personnel and equipment from Afghanistan and bolstering the Afghan security forces – “a project with new salience after the U.S.-trained Iraqi military was routed in Nineveh Province by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS),” The Guardian notes.