Share This Page

Obama seeks $500M to train, equip Syrian rebels

| Thursday, June 26, 2014, 4:09 p.m.
In this Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 file photo, a Syrian military soldier holds his AK-47 with a sticker of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Arabic that reads, 'Syria is fine,' as he stands guard at a check point on Baghdad street, in Damascus. The veneer of normalcy is thin in Damascus, the stronghold of President Bashar Assad's rule, after more than 2 1/2 years of bloodshed.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $500 million to train and arm vetted members of the Syrian opposition, as the U.S. grapples for a way to stem a civil war that has also fueled the al-Qaida inspired insurgency in neighboring Iraq.

The military training program would deepen the Obama administration's involvement in the more than four-year conflict between rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. If approved by Congress, the program would supplement a covert train-and-assistance program run by U.S. intelligence agencies.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has already approved a version of the sweeping defense policy bill authorizing the Defense Department to provide “equipment, supplies, training and defense services” to elements of the Syrian opposition that have been screened. The Senate could act on the bill before the August recess.

The president hinted at the increased support for the opposition forces during a commencement address at West Point last month.

“In helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we also push back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos,” Obama told the graduating cadets.

Officials said the administration would coordinate with Congress and regional players on the specific types of training and assistance the U.S. would provide the opposition. One potential option would be to base U.S. personnel in Jordan and conduct the training exercise there.

The $500 million request is part of a broader $65.8 billion overseas operations request that the administration sent to Congress Thursday. The fiscal package, which would fund an array of Pentagon and State Department programs, also includes $1 billion to shore up nations bordering Syria that are dealing with an influx of refugees and the threat of extremists.

Iraq in particular is buckling amid lightening gains by the Sunni extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which also has a stronghold inside Syria. The group has seized large swaths of Iraq and seeks to carve out a purist Islamic enclave across both sides of the Syria-Iraq border.

The total overseas contingency package is about $21 billion less than the administration said it expected to request when Obama submitted his fiscal year 2015 budget to Congress earlier this year. Officials said the decrease is in part of reflection of Obama's plans to drawdown the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to about 10,000 forces by the beginning of next year.

Obama is still waiting for the Afghan government to sign a security agreement with the U.S. that would allow those forces to stay.

In Congress, some lawmakers have looked at the overseas account as a source of cash as the Pentagon has been forced to cut its core budget. The House's version of the sweeping defense policy bill for next year shifts some $600 million from the overseas account to spare the A-10 Warthog, the close air support aircraft that has a strong coalition of Republican and Democratic support on Capitol Hill.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.