Pentagon may help arm Syrian rebels

Washington is weighing expanding support for Syrian rebels by having the Pentagon take charge of arming the opposition instead of a clandestine effort by the CIA, officials say.

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“It’s under consideration,” said a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“If and how (it would be done) are both questions being discussed,” the official said.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the possible change on Wednesday.

After concluding in June that the Syrian regime used sarin gas in a small-scale attack, President Barack Obama’s administration decided to start supplying weapons to the rebels through the Central Intelligence Agency.

But after another alleged chemical weapons attack on a larger scale – and as lawmakers debate whether to endorse Obama’s call for military action against the regime – the administration is looking at ratcheting up support for the rebels, two US officials said.

Lawmakers have complained that promised weapons have yet to arrive, putting the opposition at a disadvantage against President Bashar al-Assad’s heavily-armed forces.

Obama’s deputies at hearings on Wednesday and Thursday acknowledged the holdup, while suggesting the administration was open to additional assistance for the rebels.

Under the CIA, support for the rebels is deemed covert and details of the assistance remain secret.

If the Pentagon took over, however, the cost and scope of the aid would no longer be classified.

The administration has been cautious in its approach to the rebels, citing concerns about Islamist extremists in the ranks with links to Al-Qaeda.

And delays in delivering weapons have reportedly been due to vetting efforts by the CIA.