The rebels have appealed for heavy weapons, supplies and even a no-fly zone to assure safe passage around Syria and an ability to organize. “[A]ll we get is words,” said one Free Syrian Army commander who added, “America is going to lose the friendship of Syrians, and no one will trust them anymore.”
NBC’s Richard Engel, who is on the ground in Syria, is reporting that al-Qaeda appears to be stepping in to fill the vacuum. Engel said yesterday that nearly 300 al-Qaeda fighters are operating near the country’s largest city, Aleppo, where a key battle between rebels and government forces is currently underway. Engel reported on Sunday that one rebel leader said al-Qaeda “has offered his unit money and weapons — and he’s willing to take it.” Watch the report:
While hawks like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have been advocating that the U.S. intervene in Syria military — seemingly without much regard for what U.S. allies think or the consequences of such a move — the Obama administration appears to be taking a more thoughtful and cautious approach. But Russia and China have blocked U.S. and allied efforts for U.N. intervention to end the Syrian civil war and with U.N. envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan now in shatters, the struggle for power in Syria, as the Wall Street Journal put it last week, “will be settled in the streets.”
However, it is inaccurate to claim that the U.S. is doing nothing to support the Syrian rebels. President Obama signed an directive sometime “within the past several months” authorizing clandestine U.S. support (via the CIA and other agencies) for the Syrian rebels. The Treasury Department also last week authorized U.S. groups to provide funding to the Free Syrian Army and recent reports revealed that the Turkish are training Syrian rebels at a U.S. air base in Southern Turkey. This is in addition to other behind the scenes assistance the U.S. has been providing over the last several months — including logistics and communications support, consulting on arms sales, gathering intelligence on who the rebels are, and providing tech aid and other training.
But, as the Post reports, “the assistance has been small-scale, intermittent, and dwarfed by the demands of an expanding battlefield that now covers all corners of the country and has escalated to include the use of air power by the government.”
While some rebels told the Post that they “don’t want any help from the West,” Engel reports that al-Qaeda’s growing influence “is a very dangerous development and rebel leaders we’ve spoken to are worried that al-Qaeda is trying to piggy back off the Syrian war and could bring a foreign agenda. In fact some rebel leaders said they would even welcome American help to eliminate al Qaeda from Syria.”