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U.S. Said To Be Leaning Toward Arming Syrian Rebels

Opposition fighters from the Free Syrian Army last month in Aleppo, Syria.
Opposition fighters from the Free Syrian Army last month in Aleppo, Syria.

As the U.S. considers a "spectrum of military options" it could take to assist the groups battling against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Obama administration is leaning toward giving lethal arms to some of those rebels, a senior administration official has told NPR's Kelly McEvers.

Wednesday on Morning Edition, Kelly told host Renee Montagne that it's most likely, according to the official, that the arms would be shoulder-fired missiles capable of taking down military aircraft.

From 'Morning Edition': NPR's Kelly McEvers on the U.S. options regarding Syria

Some other news outlets are reporting similar stories.

The Washington Post writes that "President Obama is preparing to send lethal weaponry to the Syrian opposition and has taken steps to assert more aggressive U.S. leadership among allies and partners seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, according to senior administration officials."

According to The New York Times, "the White House is once again considering supplying weapons to Syria's armed opposition, senior officials said Tuesday."

The Los Angeles Times adds a cautionary note about the timing of such a decision: "The White House is considering providing weapons to the Syrian rebels, officials said Tuesday, but no decision is imminent and President Obama seemed to soften his public threats to the Syrian government over its alleged use of chemical weapons."

The reports follow Tuesday's news conference at the White House. The president discussed whether Assad had crossed a "red line" drawn by the U.S. — by using chemical weapons against his own people as he tries to suppress an opposition that has been battling against his forces for more than two years.

"What we have now is evidence that chemical weapons have been used" in Syria, Obama said Tuesday. But he noted that it isn't yet known "how they were used, when they were used [or] who used them."

So, while he has said the use of such weapons would be a "game changer," the president added that "I've got to make sure I've got the facts" before taking action. If it is proved that the Assad regime used chemical weapons, Obama said, "we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us."

Sending arms to the Syrian opposition does, of course, raise the concern that those weapons might some day fall into the hands of anti-U.S. Islamist extremists. Kelly reports that the U.S. appears to have chosen the fighters it likes and believes there is a "knowable pipeline" through which the arms could get into the right hands if the decision is made to send them.

Up to now, U.S. assistance has focused on humanitarian aid and some training of rebel fighters.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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