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Arms for Syrian rebels going to jihadists: US officials
 
 
 

NEW YORK — Weapons sent by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to aid Syrian rebels are ending up in the hands of Islamic jihadists, according to media reports, citing American officials in the Middle East and the United States. The U.S. has supported a policy of indirect aid to the forces seeking to overthrow Syrian  President Bashar al-Assad, the reports said. New information, however, indicates to some officials that American-backed aid may be inadvertently equipping the jihadists and not secular opposition forces. “The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” an unnamed American official was quoted as saying in The New York Times.The flow of arms to hard-line jihadists in Syria has raised fears that the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention could lead to future insurgencies hostile to the United States, the paper said,“That conclusion, of which President (Barack) Obama and other senior officials are aware from classified assessments of the Syrian conflict that has now claimed more than 25,000 lives, casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States,” the Times wrote..The United States, according to the Times, is not sending arms directly to the Syrian opposition. Instead, it is providing intelligence and other support for shipments of secondhand light weapons like rifles and grenades into Syria, mainly orchestrated from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The reports indicate that the shipments organized from Qatar, in particular, are largely going to hard-line Islamists.The assessment of the arms flows comes at a crucial time for Obama, in the closing weeks of the election campaign with two debates looming that will focus on his foreign policy record. But it also calls into question the Syria strategy laid out by Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger.In a speech at the Virginia Military Institute last Monday,  Romney said he would ensure that rebel groups “who share our values” would “obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.” That suggests he would approve the transfer of weapons like antiaircraft and antitank systems that are much more potent than any the United States has been willing to put into rebel hands so far, precisely because American officials cannot be certain who will ultimately be using them.But Romney stopped short of saying that he would have the United States provide those arms directly, and his aides said he would instead rely on Arab allies to do it. That would leave him, like Obama, with little direct control over the distribution of the arms.American officials have been trying to understand why hard-line Islamists have received the lion’s share of the arms shipped to the Syrian opposition through the shadowy pipeline with roots in Qatar, and, to a lesser degree, Saudi Arabia. The officials, voicing frustration, say there is no central clearinghouse for the shipments, and no effective way of vetting the groups that ultimately receive them.Those problems were central concerns for the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus, when he traveled secretly to Turkey last month, the Times said. The C.I.A. has not commented on  Petraeus’s trip, made to a region he knows well from his days as the Army general in charge of Central Command, which is responsible for all American military operations in the Middle East, it said. Officials of countries in the region say that Petraeus has been deeply involved in trying to steer the supply effort, though American officials dispute that assertion.

 
 
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