Body armor and night-vision goggles among nonlethal equipment that would join food and medical supplies
Times of Israel
The Obama administration’s next step in aid to Syrian rebels is expected to be a broader package of nonlethal assistance, including body armor and night-vision goggles, as the US searches for ways to stem the bloodshed from Syria’s civil war.
Administration officials say an announcement of the new aid is not imminent. But Secretary of State John Kerry says the administration had been holding intense talks on how to boost assistance to the rebels fighting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. “Those efforts have been very much front and center in our discussions in the last week in Washington,” Kerry said Tuesday, a day before meeting with Syrian opposition leaders in London. “I’m not sure what the schedule is, but I do believe that it’s important for us to try to continue to put the pressure on President Assad and to try to change his calculation.” The United Nations estimates more than 70,000 people have been killed during more than two years of fighting between rebels and government forces. Britain and France have already been shipping armor, night-vision goggles and other military-style equipment to the rebels. Earlier this year, the US announced a $60 million nonlethal assistance package for Syria that includes meals and medical supplies for the armed opposition. The aid package marked the first direct American assistance to the opposition forces trying to overthrow Assad. But thus far, the US has resisted providing lethal weapons to the rebels, in part out of fear that the arms could fall into the hands of jihadi groups that are designated as terrorist fronts linked to al-Qaeda. However, the US has said it would not stand in the way of other nations that decide to arm the rebels. Senior officials from the White House, State Department and Pentagon held a high-level meeting Friday that focused on Syria. In London, Kerry attended a British-hosted lunch alongside several leading members of the Syrian opposition. They included the interim prime minister, Hassan Hitto; Vice Presidents Suheir Atassi and George Sabra; Secretary-General Najib Ghadbian and the opposition’s envoys to the United States and Britain. Kerry then was to meet one-on-one with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for talks on the Syrian civil war and several US-Russian disputes that have strained the relationship. Discussions on Syria are expected to continue into Wednesday night when the top diplomats from all the Group of Eight industrialized nations get together. The leader of a terrorist group fighting on the side of Syria’s rebels has for the first time pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and the terror network’s No. 1, Ayman al-Zawahri. In an audio message Wednesday, Abu Mohammad al-Golani also confirmed ties with al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch but said that he wasn’t consulted ahead of an announcement on the two groups’ merger. Al-Qaeda’s branch in Iraq on Tuesday announced it joined forces with the Syrian group, and that the new union will be called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. But al-Golani said the announcement was premature and that his Jabhat al-Nusra will continue to use its own name. The US designated Jabhat al-Nusra a terrorist group at the end of 2012.