The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in providing lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, U.S. officials and Syrian rebel leaders said on Wednesday.
The shipments began arriving over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear, The Washington Post r
The weapons flow — light weapons and other munitions that can be tracked — marked a major escalation of the U.S. role in the Syrian civil war, according to the Post.
The shipments began arriving in Syria as tensions heightened over threats by President Barack Obama to order limited missile strikes against President Bashar Assad for his use of chemical weapons in a deadly attack on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus last month.
The arms are being delivered as the United States is also shipping new types of nonlethal gear to rebels, the Post reports. The aid includes vehicles, sophisticated communications equipment and advanced combat medical kits.
U.S. officials told the Post that, taken together, the weapons and gear will raise the profile and prowess of rebel fighters in a conflict that started more than two years ago.
The White House signaled months ago that it would increase aid to Syrian rebels, but the efforts have lagged because of logistical challenges in delivering the equipment in a war zone — and officials feared that such aid could end up with jihadists.
In April, Secretary of State John Kerry had promised that the nonlethal aid would start flowing “in a matter of weeks,” the Post reports.
But the delays prompted several senior U.S. lawmakers to attack the Obama administration for not moving more quickly to aid the Syrian opposition after promising the assistance in June.
The criticism has grown louder amid the debate over whether military force should be used — and some lawmakers have said that they would withhold support of the resolution authorizing the strikes until the administration committed to providing the rebels with more assistance, the Post reports.
Sen. Bob Corker told the Post that he met with Syrians along the Turkish border three weeks ago.
“It was humiliating,” the Tennessee Republican said, referring to the U.S. not yet providing the weapons. “The president had announced that we would be providing lethal aid, and not a drop of it had begun.
"They were very short on ammunition, and the weapons had not begun to flow,” he told the Post.
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