The New York Times today reports that CIA operatives stationed in southern Turkey are providing key assistance and providing arms -- including rocket propelled grenades, anti-tank weapons, and automatic rifles -- to select members of Syrian opposition groups fighting against the ruling government of President Bashar al-Assad.
In addition to providing arms, according to "unnamed" current and retired government officials cited by the Times, the Obama administration is weighing additional assistance to rebels which could include providing satellite imagery and intelligence on Syrian troop locations and movements.
"The administration is also considering whether to help the opposition set up a rudimentary intelligence service," the report said, but "no decisions have been made on those measures or even more aggressive steps, like sending C.I.A. officers into Syria itself, they said."
Hawkish elements of the US foreign policy establishment have been pressing Obama to give military support to the opposition, despite widespread knowledge that elements of the opposition, including known Al Qaeda-like affiliates, have been accused of human rights abuses of their own. Critics of US military intervention in Syria, however, will find none of the revelations in the Times report comforting.
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The New York Times: CIA Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition
A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.
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The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.
The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said. The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria’s neighbors would do so.
The clandestine intelligence-gathering effort is the most detailed known instance of the limited American support for the military campaign against the Syrian government. It is also part of Washington’s attempt to increase the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who has recently escalated his government’s deadly crackdown on civilians and the militias battling his rule. With Russia blocking more aggressive steps against the Assad government, the United States and its allies have instead turned to diplomacy and aiding allied efforts to arm the rebels to force Mr. Assad from power.
By helping to vet rebel groups, American intelligence operatives in Turkey hope to learn more about a growing, changing opposition network inside of Syria and to establish new ties. “C.I.A. officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people,” said one Arab intelligence official who is briefed regularly by American counterparts.
American officials and retired C.I.A. officials said the administration was also weighing additional assistance to rebels, like providing satellite imagery and other detailed intelligence on Syrian troop locations and movements. The administration is also considering whether to help the opposition set up a rudimentary intelligence service. But no decisions have been made on those measures or even more aggressive steps, like sending C.I.A. officers into Syria itself, they said.
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