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Is Obama Covertly Expanding US Role in Syria?

Multiple sources cite expanding CIA training and potential anti-aircraft missile shipments as US seeks to repair strained relationship with Saudi Arabia

Sarah Lazare

The Obama administration may green-light shipments of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian opponents of Bashar al-Assad and expand covert CIA training and assistance in an apparent bid to repair frayed relations with Saudi Arabia.

"It is ridiculous, unjust, and outrageous that the U.S. is supposedly seeking to repair relations with Saudi Arabia by escalating the killing in Syria," said Robert Naiman, policy director for Just Foreign Policy, in an interview with Common Dreams. "In whose interest is this?"

President Obama is mulling over whether to okay shipments of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADs), according to statements by an anonymous U.S. official cited in an Associated Press article published Friday. The Saudi government has ostensibly refrained from sending MANPADs to the Syrian opposition due to the past opposition of the Obama administration, which has shipped smaller weapons and ammunition. AP reports that the actual shipments of the missiles could come from the Saudis if Obama gives the go-ahead.

The anonymous official told AP that Obama was considering the change, in part, in a bid to repair strained relations with Saudi Arabia — a key focus of Friday's meeting with Saudi King Abdullah near Riyadh.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration "appears to have decided to expand its covert program of training and assistance for the Syrian opposition," according to a report last Thursday from Washington Post writer David Ignatius. Citing unnamed "knowledgeable officials," Ignatius writes that the plan would likely include, in addition to the MANPADs, the training of roughly 600 Syrian fighters per month by the CIA and, potentially, military personnel.

Even Obama administration lawyers have acknowledged that the U.S. arming of Syrian opposition forces is on shaky ground regarding international law. Said Naiman, "The U.S. government has come up with a story they tell themselves — that the U.S. government is allowed to violate international law if it is done in a covert action through the CIA."

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