Washington: Ending months of delay, the US has started delivering weapons to rebels in Syria over the last two weeks.
This move on the part of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) marks a major escalation in the role of the US in strife-torn Syria.
The shipments of weapons were delivered to Syrian rebels together with separate deliveries by the US State Department of vehicles and other gear, according to a report in the Washington Post.
Light weapons and other munitions that can be tracked are being supplied to the rebels fighting the Basher al-Assad regime.
New types of non-lethal gear, including vehicles, sophisticated communications gear and advanced medical kits are also being supplied to the rebels, the Post report said
This supply of the weapons and gear will “boost the profile and prowess of rebel fighters in a conflict that started about 2-1/2 years ago”.
The latest US aid is meant for rebel fighters under the command of Salim Idriss, head of the Supreme Military Council, a faction of the disjointed armed opposition, the report said.
Although the US administration had said months ago that it would increase aid to Syrian rebels, “the efforts have lagged because of the logistical challenges involved in delivering equipment in a war zone and officials’ fears that any assistance could wind up in the hands of jihadists”, it said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry had promised in April that the non-lethal aid would start flowing “in a matter of weeks”.
The latest shipments flow through a network of clandestine bases in Turkey and Jordan, according to the report.
Republican Senator Bob Corker, who has been urging the Obama administration to do more to help the rebels, said he felt embarrassed when he met Syrians along the Turkish border three weeks back.
“It was humiliating,” he was quoted as saying in an interview Wednesday night.
“The president had announced that we would be providing lethal aid, and not a drop of it had begun. They were very short on ammunition, and the weapons had not begun to flow.”
Khaled Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian Opposition Coalition, said though Washington’s supplies are welcome, it was still insufficient to turn the tide of the civil war .
“...If you compare what we are getting compared to the assistance Assad receives from Iran and Russia, we have a long battle ahead of us,” he was quoted as saying.
Another Syrian opposition leader, speaking condition of anonymity, said that the US remained reluctant to provide the rebels anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons which they want most.