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$500 million to be spent training rebels, as US steps up Syria involvement

They White House says it intends to “ramp up US support to the moderate Syrian opposition”.

Syrian rebel fighter Tawfiq Hassan, 23, poses for a picture, after returning from fighting against Syrian army forces in Aleppo. (2012 photo)
Syrian rebel fighter Tawfiq Hassan, 23, poses for a picture, after returning from fighting against Syrian army forces in Aleppo. (2012 photo)
Image: AP/Press Association Images

THE WHITE HOUSE has asked lawmakers for $500 million to train and equip vetted Syrian rebels, in what would be a significant escalation of US involvement in a conflict that has spilled into Iraq.

Following several signals in recent weeks by President Barack Obama’s administration — and months of pressure from lawmakers like Senator John McCain — the White House said it intends to “ramp up US support to the moderate Syrian opposition.”

The request is part of a $1.5 billion Regional Stabilization Initiative to bolster stability in Syrian neighbors Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and to support communities hosting refugees.

In a clear acknowledgement that Syria and Iraq face a common threat, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki earlier “welcomed” strikes by Syria’s air force on the Syrian side of the Al-Qaim border crossing, controlled by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters.

The proposed US funding would serve “vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition to help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement,” the White House said in a statement.

But Damascus ally Moscow lashed out at the move, saying “there are better uses for these 500 million dollars.”

The Americans “are moving things in their own direction, they keep the fire burning instead of doing something political,” Russian ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin told reporters during a reception at the Russian mission.

The proposal was part of the $65.8 billion overseas contingency operations request to Congress for fiscal year 2015, which begins October 1. The bulk of that amount, $58.6 billion, was allocated to the Defense Department.

In a separate statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the funding “would build on the administration’s longstanding efforts to empower the moderate Syrian opposition” and allow the Pentagon to increase its support to vetted armed rebels.

- © AFP 2014

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