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Report: U.S. long ready to aid rebels

| Monday, June 17, 2013, 8:06 p.m.

AMMAN, Jordan — The U.S. military began laying the groundwork to arm and support Syrian rebels more than a week ago, using a military exercise currently being held in Jordan as a cover for bringing in personnel and equipment.

Despite official statements by the Obama administration that a decision to arm the rebels was made on June 13, preparations were seen by McClatchy on the ground days earlier. In addition to the 300 Marines that Jordanian officials said were currently stationed along Jordan's northern border with Syria, meetings were held between Syrian rebels and U.S. officials more than 10 days ago to establish what type of weapons the White House is willing to provide.

Jordanian officials have said that those Marines had no connection to the exercises currently being run by the U.S. and Jordanian militaries, though they were brought into the country under the guise of being part of the “Eager Lion” exercises. Regional analysts and officials have said that while those exercises are touted as a “multilateral relationship-building” measure, on the ground they are widely seen as the U.S. “flexing its muscles” and laying the groundwork for future maneuvers.

“The U.S. has been preparing this for some time. So it is very clear to us, here on the ground in Jordan, that the Obama decision to arm the rebels was made weeks ago rather than days ago,” a Jordanian diplomatic official said in an off-the-record briefing. Other diplomats, interviewed in Jordan, said that there was widespread consensus that the U.S. was preparing to arm the rebels, though the gesture was often called “too little too late.”

Like the Jordanian official, the officials, rebel leaders and others who spoke to McClatchy did not want to be quoted by name.

Syrian rebels, said one European official, had repeatedly traveled to Jordan to try to plead their case with the diplomatic community and had pressed the need for a no-fly zone and heavy weapons.

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