It took several months but small arms that President Obama promised to send to Syrian rebels have finally begun to arrive.
The Washington Post reports that in the last two weeks, non-US made weapons have been funneled by the CIA to rebel forces while the State Department has increased non-lethal aid that includes vehicles, sophisticated communications equipment and advanced combat medical kits.
Although the Obama administration signaled months ago that it would increase aid to Syrian rebels, the efforts have lagged because of the logistical challenges involved in delivering equipment in a war zone and officials' fears that any assistance could wind up in the hands of jihadists. Secretary of State John F. Kerry had promised in April that the nonlethal aid would start flowing "in a matter of weeks."
The delays prompted several senior U.S. lawmakers to chide the Obama administration for not moving more quickly to aid the Syrian opposition after promising lethal assistance in June. The criticism has grown louder amid the debate over whether Washington should use military force against the Syrian regime, with some lawmakers withholding support until the administration committed to providing the rebels with more assistance.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has pressed the Obama administration to do more to help the rebels, said he felt embarrassed when he met with Syrians along the Turkish border three weeks ago.
"It was humiliating," he said in an interview Wednesday night. "The president had announced that we would be providing lethal aid, and not a drop of it had begun. They were very short on ammunition, and the weapons had not begun to flow."
The latest effort to provide aid is aimed at supporting rebel fighters who are under the command of Gen. Salim Idriss, according to officials, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because part of the initiative is covert. Idriss is the commander of the Supreme Military Council, a faction of the disjointed armed opposition.
U.S. officials, speaking about the provision of nonlethal aid, said they are determined to increase the cohesion and structure of the rebel fighting units.
Idress, a former commander in the Syria army who defected in 2011, swears the weapons won't fall into the hands of the jihadists. Given the lack of organization in the Free Syrian Army, it seems doubtful that Idress can make good on that promise. That's why we won't give the FSA any anti-aircraft missiles. One of them is likely to be used by Islamists to shoot down a commercial jet.
These weapons are not "game changers" by any stretch of the imagination. Until the rebels can combat Assad's armor and air power, they will be virtually helpless in stand up fights with government forces. And until they can do that, their rebellion will achieve, at best, stalemate.