US Congress sets back arm delivery to rebels

US Congress sets back arm delivery to rebels

US Congress sets back arm delivery to rebels

Syrian rebels gather around a Syrian army tank as rebels prepare to attack positions held by the army areas in the Salaheddine neighborhood of Aleppo. AFP photo

Congressional committees are holding up a plan to send U.S. weapons to rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because of fears that such deliveries will not be decisive and the arms might end up in the hands of Islamist militants, five U.S. national security sources said.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees have expressed reservations behind closed doors at the effort by President Barack Obama’s administration to support the insurgents by sending them military hardware.

None of the military aid that the United States announced weeks ago has arrived in Syria, according to an official from an Arab country and Syrian opposition sources. One Arab government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed concern that the United States had only made the decision to provide weapons but had not yet determined exactly where to send them.

The White House announced in June that it would arm vetted groups of Syrian rebels, after two years of avoiding involvement in the civil war. Democrats and Republicans on the committees worry that weapons could reach factions like the al-Nusra Front, which is one of the most effective rebel groups but has also been labeled by the United States as a front for al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Committee members also want to hear more about the administration’s overall Syria policy, and about how it believes its arms plan will affect the situation on the ground, where al-Assad’s forces have made recent gains. Funding that the administration advised the congressional committees it wanted to use to pay for arms deliveries to al-Assad’s opponents has been temporarily frozen, the sources said.

Tacit rules

Technically, the administration does not need specific congressional approval either through public legislation or some kind of legislative sanction process to move ahead with the weapons plan. The president already has legal authority to order such shipments, several sources said.

However, under tacit rules observed by the executive branch and Congress on intelligence matters, administrations will not move ahead with programs like weapons deliveries to the Syrian opposition if one or both of the congressional intelligence committees express serious objections.