Rebel forces in Syria are now officially receiving CIA-delivered weapons from the United States government, the Washington Post reports, citing U.S. officials and Syrian figures.
Following months of delay, the lethal aid promised to the Syrian rebels by President Barack Obama began trickling into the war-torn country over the past two weeks. The opposition forces have also reportedly received vehicles and other gear from the State Department, marking a “major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war,” the Washington Post observes.
The Associated Press adds that delivery of bigger weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades has also been arranged through a third party country.
According to the Post’s sources, arms shipments of light weapons and other munitions are being delivered to the rebels as well as nonlethal gear like sophisticated communications equipment, advanced combat medical kits and vehicles — all funded by the U.S. taxpayer.
“U.S. officials hope that, taken together, the weapons and gear will boost the profile and prowess of rebel fighters in a conflict that started about 2 1/2 years ago,” the report adds.
The revelation comes as some in the United States have wondered if the 9/11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year was tied to possible weaponsrunning to Syria. It also comes on the heels of one Benghazi whistleblower’s attorney saying 400 surface-to-air-missiles were stolen from the country and “it is clear that the [CIA] annex [also attacked] was somehow involved in the process of the distribution of those missiles.”
The intense debate over whether the U.S. should use military force against Syria was still raging when President Obama addressed the nation on Tuesday. He asked Congress to wait to vote on a use-of-force resolution so diplomatic solutions could be explored.
Many members of Congress — and the majority of the American people — have stood against aiding the Syrian rebels due to the involvement of radical Islamist groups in the movement. A recent Washington Post/ABC poll found 70 percent of Americans were against arming the rebels.
Russia recently proposed that international inspectors seize and destroy Assad’s deadly stockpile of chemical weapons.
American ships in the Mediterranean Sea remained ready to strike Syria if ordered, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said. Syrian rebels appeared skeptical the U.S. forces would be put to use, saying the Americans have repeatedly reneged on promises to assist their rebellion. They point to Obama’s statement in June that he would provide lethal aid to the rebels and that none that assistance has yet gotten to the opposition. Meanwhile, the Syrian leader’s forces have gained the advantage.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story has been updated.