Obama about-turns on Syria: US military training and weapons for moderate Syrian rebels

Arab watchers around the Middle East are waiting agog for US President Barack Obama’s address at the US Military Academy at West Point Wednesday, May 28, as forecasts abound that he will unveil a major policy U-turn on the Syrian conflict. debkafile’s military sources report that the new policy is in fact in motion ahead of the presidential disclosure. It is a program to expand US involvement in the war against the Assad regime and al Qaeda elements by providing moderate rebels with military training and a regular supply of sophisticated weapons, instead of the widely-spaced dribs and drabs hitherto. It may even include anti-air systems which Washington has withheld so far.
The Arab world sees Obama as moving to counteract Russian, Iranian and Hizballah intervention in the Syrian conflict. It is seen in some quarters as also payback for Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
At all events, a Saudi source commented in Riyadh: “For the first time in years, president Obama is ready to take direct action against Iran’s strategic interests in the Middle East.”

The West Point speech will also be watched carefully in Moscow, where expanded US input in support of the rebels is seen as a direct assault on the Russian position in Syria. debkafile’s sources report that Moscow is preparing to beef up and upgrade its arms consignments to Syria so as to arm Assad for contending with the advanced American hardware incoming to the rebels.

Obama will unveil his plan for Syria the day after announcing his decision to leave 9,800 in Afghanistan – after the US combat mission is over at the end of 2014 – to train Afghan forces and support counter-terrorism operations. That decision is contingent on the next Afghan president signing a bilateral security agreement, which the incumbent Hamid Karzai refused to do. Washington appears confident that both of the candidates facing the June 14 run-off will agree to approve the accord.

The latest DEBKA Weekly 636 of May 23 disclosed President Obama’s revised approach to US military intervention in Syria, offering details of his plan. The US military training camps are already up and running, we reported. The rebel trainees arrive through Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey, take the US courses and then cross into Syria.
The US army has furthermore laid out the secret routes for sending the new weapons supplies to the fighters in Syria.

By this policy reassessment, the Obama administration aims to achieve the following strategic objectives: 

1. Creating a distance between the Israeli and Jordanian borders and the threats posed to those countries by the Syrian Army and its allies, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the Lebanese Hizballah and Iraqi Shiite militias.

2. Keeping those hostile forces at bay additionally from US military facilities in Jordan and Israel.

3. Establishing a US military intelligence foothold on the Damascus periphery to challenge Russian and Iranian exclusivity as the only major powers with operational access to the Syrian capital.
4. US military intelligence agents on the spot would seek to establish ties with high-ranking Syrian general command officers and the field commanders of units deployed in and around Damascus.

5. Creating a barrier to stave off Al Qaeda encroachments on Damascus or the Syrian-Jordanian and Syrian-Israeli borders and so preventing the jihadis from gaining jumping-off positions for attacks inside those countries.


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