U.S. Senators: Kerry Suggested Arming Syrian Rebels
Two leading advocates of direct American involvement in Syria say the Obama Administration may be considering taking a greater role.
Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., say Secretary of State John Kerry made blunt remarks during a bipartisan meeting Sunday indicating a more aggressive U.S. policy may be in the works. The meeting with McCain, Graham, and 13 other members of Congress took place at a Munich hotel.
Afterwards, the senators briefed three reporters about their off-the-record meeting with Kerry.
Al-Qaeda’s presence is creating a threat that is growing “out of hand,” Kerry reportedly said.
“[Kerry] acknowledged that the chemical weapons [plan]is being slow-rolled, the Russians continue to supply arms, we are at a point now where we are going to have to change our strategy,” Graham said.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that Syria was becoming an al-Qaeda haven and that Jabhat al-Nusra, its Syrian branch, wants to strike inside the United States.
According to some estimates, approximately 26,000 extremists tied to al-Qaeda and its jihadist allies now are on Syrian soil, Clapper said. Thousands of foreign fighters including Europeans and some Americans have been attracted to the Syrian battlefield.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has been fighting rival jihadist factions, including al-Nusra and the Islamic Front, in recent weeks. The lslamic Front has been painted by some Western intellectuals as the “best hope” for defeating the ISIS despite its close cooperation with al-Nusra. It has an estimated40,000 to 50,000 fighters under its control.
ISIS’s tactics have proven to be enough for al-Qaeda, too. It announced Sunday in jihadi forums that the terrorist group’s general command had “no connection with the group.”
The U.S. has provided arms to the “moderate” Syrian rebels in larger amounts than ever before, The Telegraph reported last week.
“Our sources in the area confirmed that there are light arms coming in,” said Dan Layman, from the Syrian Support Group, a U.S.-based group that has been involved with providing “nonlethal” aid to the former Free Syrian Army.
“The amount of weapons is bigger than it has been before, and is having a significant effect on the offensive to push the regime out of the southern parts of the country and from the suburbs of Damascus.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki rejected McCain and Graham’s account, saying “at no point during the meeting did Secretary Kerry raise lethal assistance for the opposition.”