Earlier this year, President Obama signed a secret order authorizing US support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to US officials.
Obama’s order, known as an intelligence “finding,” gives broad authority to the CIA and other agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad, like communications equipment, intelligence, and other kinds of non-lethal assistance.
According to reports, this specifically does not include directly giving the Syrian rebels weapons. The Obama administration is, however, using the CIA to help facilitate the delivery of weapons to rebel militias from other allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
This news doesn’t change what has been known for months about the Obama administration’s approach to Syria, but it does emphasize how explicit their goal of regime change by proxy is.
This US support, technically both lethal and non-lethal, is dangerous policy. Al-Qaeda militants and other Sunni extremists are becoming a greater and greater part of the opposition in Syria, which has been shown to have committed human rights abuses. This has prompted criticism from Russia and others that America is aiding terrorists.
The CIA is supposedly employing a “vetting process” to avoid having the aid get into the hands of Islamic extremists, but the process is made up of untrustworthy, third-party sources and intelligence officials have recently told the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times that the truth is that the US doesn’t know who is getting the money and weapons.
Apparently, even arming and strengthening al-Qaeda isn’t enough to disrupt Washington’s plan to change the regime in Syria, in order to eliminate Iran’s main ally in the Middle East and to gain an even stronger foothold in the region.
But extremist infiltration of the Syrian opposition carries other problems. The Obama administration runs the risk of helping to bring these extremists to power if and when the Assad regime finally does collapse. Moreover, as happened in Afghanistan after the US proxy war there with the mujihadeens, the potential for deadly blowback is very real.