By a vote of 273 to 156, the House of Representatives approved President Obama’s plan to train and arm Syrian rebels on Wednesday. With support from Congress, the White House hopes that assisting vetted opposition groups will help contain the spread of Islamic State (IS) fighters. The provision was attached to a continuing resolution to fund the U.S. government through December. Until now, the CIA had been covertly assisting the rebels for months.
The resolution divided both parties, with more than 40% of Democrats opposing the measure for fear of leading the U.S. into another war in the Middle East. Most Republicans backed the bill, with one senior GOP leader suggesting that the White House should be given broader military authority to combat IS militants. Yet, other Republicans worried that supporting rebel groups would allow them to fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad better, instead of IS terrorists.
Kerry speaking before Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. (Photo: AP)
On the other side of Capitol Hill, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testified before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq. Kerry urged the Senate to approve the House resolution, saying arming more moderate opposition groups in Syria represents the “best counterweight” to IS in the region. The Senate plans to vote Thursday on the issue.
Arming local partners in the field, such as the Iraqi Army, Kurdish Pershmerga, and Syrian rebels, is part of President Obama’s plans to avoid the deployment of U.S. ground combat troops against IS. If the air campaign in Iraq fails to dislodge the jihadists, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told members of Congress he hasn’t ruled out recommending U.S. ground forces be deployed.