The CIA began delivering lethal aid to some Syrian rebel groups two weeks ago, according to a Washington Post report, along with non-lethal aid from the State Department and other government agencies. That seems to end months of delays from the CIA on an authority they've had since July. Now that the U.S. is backing away from a Syrian strike, for the moment, reports emerge indicating that the country is stepping up its response in other areas.
Those CIA shipments apparently don't yet include the sorts of weapons the rebels say they need most: antitank and antiaircraft missiles. One opposition leader told the Post that the light arms and ammunitions shipments they have gotten, however, are "better than nothing." Here's more from the report:
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.
The State Department's nonlethal aid, also focusing on the fighters under Idriss, seems to be part of a hearts and minds-type campaign. Mark Ward, the State Department's lead man on Syrian aid, explained that the U.S. was trying to use aid to boost "moderate" local leaders, in order to compete with any benefits that might be available to communities aligning themselves with extremists.
Ward was also the subject of a Foreign Policy profile on Wednesday, where the official explained why it's taken so long for the U.S. to start helping the rebels as promised:
The delay, perceived or real, frustrates Ward, too, who himself wishes assistance could be faster. But as he told FP, shipping aid and equipment into Syria too quickly could mean that it goes to the wrong organizations or communities. Experts on Syria who guide Ward and his team on where best to send it tell him to go slowly. "It's like vetting the end users of our aid to be sure they aren't bad guys," he said in an interview with FP during a visit to Washington last week. "Rush it, and you could do real harm."
He also addresses a much-mocked plan to distribute packaged food to opposition fighters:
Some time ago, Ward offered tens of thousands of "Meals, Ready-to-Eat" (MREs) to the Supreme Military Council's Salim Idris, as close to a military ally as the United States has right now. At first, Idris complained bitterly. The United States was providing the SMC with these strange packaged meals when what his men needed was real capability: weaponry. But Ward cautioned Idris: The meals, the American told him, were simply an exam for the Syrians. Take them, send them to your forces, Ward said, and good things will come. "I told him that if you essentially pass this test, the government will give you more things," Ward told the general.
As the Post notes, however, even the delivered non-lethal aid doesn't contain the items most asked for by rebels, which would be night vision goggles and body armor. But the U.S., more or less, has just begun the process of distributing the aid it's already allotted to the country. Of $1 billion total allotted to help Syria, $250 million of that will go to the rebels. But only $140 million's been spent, FP explains, with just a portion of that amount representing aid already in the hands of the opposition.