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US revisits weapons for Syria

September 11, 2014

The Obama administration has called on Congress to quickly authorize weapons shipments to Syrian rebel groups opposed to the "Islamic State." But Republican lawmakers are demanding a full debate on the issue.

Free Syrian army fighter with M16 rifle 04.01.2014
Image: Reuters

Division erupted in Congress on Wednesday over a White House proposal to ramp up weapons shipments to Syrian rebel groups, just hours before President Barack Obama delivered a televised address on his strategy to combat "Islamic State" (IS) militants.

"It's clear to me that we need to train and equip Syrian rebels and other groups in the Middle East that need some help," said Harry Reid, the leader of the Senate's Democrat majority. "The president has tried to get that from us and we should give it to him."

The White House wants Congress to include the arms shipments in a spending bill due to be voted on in the coming days. But Republican lawmakers, who control the House of Representatives, are resisting the last-minute pressure.

"This is a complex, complicated policy change that needs to be fully vetted here in Congress," said Hal Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House's powerful appropriations committee.

Obama confers with Saudi king

Meanwhile, President Obama called Saudi King Abdullah to discuss the threat posed by the Islamic State, according to the White House. The two leaders agreed that the Syrian opposition needs additional external support.

"The president and the king agreed on the need for increased training and equipping of the moderate Syrian opposition, consistent with the proposal that President Obama has made to the United States Congress," the White House said in a press release.

"Both leaders agreed that a stronger Syrian opposition is essential to confronting extremists like [the Islamic State] as well as the Assad regime, which has lost all legitimacy," the White House said.

US weapons in the hands of the IS?

Last September, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began shipping light weapons and ammunition to vetted Syrian rebel groups. In June, President Obama asked Congress to authorize $500 million (386 million euros) to train and equip Syrian rebel groups. But the plan stalled on Capitol Hill. The rebels have requested heavier weapons, such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.

Some US weapons shipped to vetted rebels have apparently fallen into the hands of Islamic State fighters, according to a study published by Conflict Armament Research, a small arms research organization based in London.

Meanwhile, President Obama on Wednesday authorized $25 million in "immediate military assistance" for the Iraqi government and the Kurdish regional authorities.

slk/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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