Most of the arms shipped to Syrian rebels by Saudi Arabia and Qatar are being sent to Islamic jihadists rather than the more secular groups the West wishes to bolster, according to a New York Times article this week. Citing frustrated American officials, the article notes that the problem seems to be the lack of a central clearinghouse for the shipments as well as a way of vetting the groups receiving the weapons.
Last month, CIA Director David Petraeus traveled secretly to Turkey to try and steer the vetting process and shape an opposition the U.S. can possibly work with, according to the report. An earlier Times article noted that the CIA had previously sent a small number of officers to Turkey to do just that.
Members of the Free Syrian Army. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)
There are few confirmed specifics on just how much the Obama administration is assisting the Syrian opposition. The president earlier this year signed a directive authorizing U.S. clandestine support for the rebels. What type of support was authorized, however, remains unclear, but the administration has thus far only provided nonlethal assistance such as communications equipment and intelligence and logistical support. According to Reuters, Obama would have to sign a supplement to that original directive in order for U.S. agencies to arm the rebels.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been sending small arms and money to the Syrian opposition for months. The countries reportedly fear that without a larger intervention — such as Washington transferring heavy weapons or an Arab-led military operation as Qatar’s emir recently suggested — the fighting in Syria could turn into a sectarian war spurred on by a youth inflamed by Islamic jihadists.
If true that most military assistance to Syria is going to the likes of al-Qaeda, it would appear the White House’s strategy of handling Syria through indirect measures has been unsuccessful. Perhaps it is time to change course.