US Officials Push to Arm Syrian Opposition

May 16, 2013 Last Updated: October 17, 2013

Two sets of U.S. officials are at the forefront of pushing the Obama administration to arm the opposition in Syria, arguing that to do so could break the prolonged civil war that has resulted in over 70,000 deaths.

U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) announced that they introduced the Syria Transition Support Act, legislation that plans for a Syria beyond the current and heavily criticized leader Bashar al-Assad.

“To change the tipping point in Syria against the Assad regime, we must support the opposition by providing lethal arms and help build a free Syria,” said Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in the announcement.

Under the legislation, the United States would start arming the Syrian opposition, something the Obama administration has so far not done.

Arming the rebels would help “prevent an extremist takeover,” said Corker. The legislation includes providing military training to the opposition. 

President Barack Obama, meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said the United States will continue supporting the opposition with nonlethal supplies, but stopped short of starting to supply them with arms.

The other officials pressuring Obama to arm the rebels are U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). 

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McCain, like the other officials, is not calling for United States troops on the ground, but he does want action taken. He said the United States needs to “supply weapons to the right people in Syria who are fighting for obviously the things we believe in,” in an interview with Fox News.

“We could use our precision strike capabilities to target Assad’s aircraft and SCUD missile launchers on the ground without our pilots having to fly into the teeth of Syria’s air defenses,” McCain told The Hill. “Similar weapons could be used to selectively destroy artillery pieces and make Assad’s forces think twice about remaining at their posts. We could also use Patriot missile batteries outside of Syria to help protect safe zones inside of Syria from Assad’s aerial bombing and missile attacks.”

“Would any of these options immediately end the conflict? Probably not. But they could save innocent lives in Syria.”

Graham said a bipartisan consensus is forming in the senate in support of arming the opposition. 

The opposition has expressed anger recently to the United States and other countries not supplying arms. Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the National Opposition Coalition, resigned recently to express his dismay over the issue.

“Khatib is resigning to denounce the international community’s lack of real action on behalf of the Syrian people,” said an NOC official, Marwan Hajjo.

The coalition said there’s a “moral imperative” to enforce a no-fly zone to stop attacks by the Syrian government, and also wants arms supplied..