Obama to arm Syrian rebels after Assad chemical weapons use confirmed
Chemical weapons use crosses a 'red line' for the administration.
The Obama administration is officially acknowledging that the Syrian regime of Bashir al-Assad has crossed a red line are using chemical weapons against rebel forces. The acknowledgment now brings the question of precisely what the Obama administration will do about it.
Farm animals that died where they stood, are evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.
Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications, released the announcement in a White House statement.
"The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete," Rhodes wrote.
"While the lethality of these attacks make up only a small portion of the catastrophic loss of life in Syria, which now stands at more than 90,000 deaths, the use of chemical weapons violates international norms and crosses clear red lines that have existed within the international community for decades," Rhodes added.
"Put simply, the Assad regime should know that its actions have led us to increase the scope and scale of assistance that we provide to the opposition, including direct support to the (rebel Supreme Military Council). These efforts will increase going forward," Rhodes' statement said.
Speaking in an interview by phone with reporters, Rhodes explained that the president has in fact made the decision to provide military support to the rebels, but did not say precisely what that support would be. It is unclear if the United States will initiate major arms shipments to the rebels.
Complicating the situation is the fact that the rebels are supported by large contingents of Al Qaeda affiliated fighters. It is feared that if the U.S. arms these rebels, some of those weapons will end up in the hands of terrorists who will subsequently use the against the U.S. and our allies.
The rebels have repeatedly called upon the United States and the international community to provide a no-fly zone over Syria. They say this would protect their strongholds and prevent the Assad regime from dropping chemical-laden bombs.
There appears to be no indication that the establishment of a no-fly zone is imminent.
Instead, more diplomacy appears to be on tap. President Obama will be attending the G8 conferences in Northern Ireland next week, where he intends to share some of the intelligence findings with allied leaders, according to Rhodes. After that, Obama intends to present his findings to the United Nations.
This process will take time, in the meanwhile Assad's forces continue to gain ground against the rebels. So far an estimated 93,000 people have died in the conflict, and tens of millions are displaced both internally, and in neighboring countries.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has warned that the US should not take half measures when dealing with Syria. Although nobody is calling for US troops to be placed on the ground in that country, McCain and other Republicans are calling for a robust response in Syria.
Reports from the United Nations suggest that the rebels were the first to use chemical weapons, however according to the Rhodes statement, the administration holds that there is "no reliable, corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons."
All of Syria's chemical weapons appear to remain in the hands and under government control.
No timeline for U.S. intervention has been announced.
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