WASHINGTON: The Syrian rebels’ record in handling tens of millions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid suggests major challenges ahead for any delivery of American weapons and ammunition.
Food, medicine and other lifesaving supplies for victims in Syria’s civil war often face long delays because of political rivalries among rival opposition factions — though U.S. officials say no supplies appear to be heading to terrorists or corrupt hoarders.
One American shipment of humanitarian goods was held up for two weeks amid a dispute between opposition groups over whose label should be attached to the boxes, a senior administration official recounted this week. Aid-filled planes have landed in neighboring countries with no trucks at the landing sites for transporting the items into Syria. In Cairo, funds the United States was prepared to provide to an opposition political office were rejected, the official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
As described, this dysfunction is nothing new. But the problem is getting increased scrutiny since the Obama administration’s decision last week to authorize for the first time lethal military support to units fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad.
The administration’s plans are still unclear, though Secretary of State John Kerry held two classified briefings with members of Congress on Thursday.
No details emerged about what types of weapons could be sent, where and when they’d be delivered or who exactly would be the recipients. The lack of clarity rankles lawmakers who want more forceful action as well as those who say the United States should stay as far away as possible from Syria’s two-year civil war.
“All I know is what I’ve read in the media and that is light weapons,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a leading proponent of taking a bigger military role in Syria. “That’s clearly not only insufficient, it’s insulting. We’ve got to take out their air assets.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., another supporter of arming the rebels and other steps such as establishing a no-fly zone over Syria, said he also had no understanding from the Obama administration about what form future lethal aid might take and possible delivery dates.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was even more critical. “We have the ability right now to fully understand who is the type of individual or group that meet our standards, and I think we’ve had that information and ability for probably nine months,” he said. “Will there be mistakes made? Of course, but I do think it helps to put our thumb on the scale.”
Neither Obama nor any other member of his administration has publicly confirmed that the United States has authorized lethal aid for the rebels.