US President Barack Obama has signed a secretive order authorizing US financial and military support for Syrian rebel forces, effectively taking sides in what many observers say has become a full blown civil war between the opposition forces such as the Free Syria Army and the ruling government of President Bassar al-Assad and its military.
According to Reuters, Obama's order -- known as an "intelligence finding" -- was "approved earlier this year" and gives the CIA and other US agencies broad permissions to provide tactical support and funnel equipment to these opposition forces. The full extent of clandestine support that US agencies might be providing remains unclear.
Though the order stops short of authorizing the arming of rebels directly, it was noted that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey -- all US allies in the region and beneficiaries of large US arms deals -- are coordinating closely with US operatives and the Syrian opposition forces.
The news will not be received well by those calling for a diplomatic solution in Syria or those who caution against further US military intervention in the region.
"Syria’s war is erupting in a region still seething in the aftermath of the U.S. war in Iraq and the sectarian legacies it left behind," says Phyllis Bennis, a director at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. "The fighting is also now taking on an increasingly sectarian form – and the danger is rising of Syria becoming the center of an expanded regional war pitting Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar against Shi’a-dominated governments in Iran and Iraq."
US government officials also confirmed to CNN the signing of the order, but it remains unclear exactly when it was signed. The authority granted offers financial assistance, tactical advisers, and non-lethal military equipment such as satellites radios and other communication equipment.
One government source acknowledged to Reuters "that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies."
Also on Wednesday, in signs of the overt support the US government is offering the Syrian rebels, the Treasury Department confirmed it has granted authorization to the Syrian Support Group, a Washington-based representative of the Free Syrian Army, to conduct financial transactions on the group's behalf. That authorization was first reported last week by Al-Monitor, a Middle East news and commentary website.
In addition, the US State Department has set aside $25 million for non-military assistance and $64 million for humanitarian aid, including contributions to the World Food Program, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other aid agencies.
Reuters concludes their reporting by saying that although US and allied government experts argue that the Syrian rebels have been "making some progress against Assad's forces lately, most believe the conflict is nowhere near resolution, and could go on for years."
Bennis, meanwhile, argues that only through diplomacy can this war be ended. "Accountability for war crimes, whether in national or international jurisdictions, is crucial – but stopping the current escalation of war must come first," she said.
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