Countries in gulf to bolster aid to rebels

| Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Persian Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia, are moving to strengthen their military support for Syrian rebels and develop policy options independent from the United States in response to what they see as a failure of U.S. leadership — including President Obama's decision not to launch airstrikes in Syria, according to senior gulf officials.

Although the Saudis and others in the region have been supplying weapons to the rebels since the fighting in Syria began more than two years ago and have cooperated with a slow-starting CIA operation to train and arm the opposition, officials said they have largely given up on the United States as the leader and coordinator of their efforts.

Instead, the Saudis plan to expand training facilities that they operate in Jordan and increase the firepower of arms sent to rebel groups fighting extremist elements as they battle Syria's government, according to gulf officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve comity with the United States.

What officials described as a parallel operation independent of U.S. efforts is being discussed by the Saudis with other countries in the region, said officials from several governments involved in the talks.

Unhappiness over Syria is only one element of what officials said are varying degrees of disenchantment in the region with much of the Obama administration's Middle East policy, including its nuclear negotiations with Iran and criticism of Egypt's new government.

Secretary of State John Kerry arrives on Sunday in Saudi Arabia on a hastily arranged visit — his first-ever meeting with King Abdullah on Monday — aimed to smooth increasingly frayed U.S. relations with the kingdom.

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