The United States is considering the resumption of non-lethal military aid to Syria’s moderate opposition, even if some of it ends up going to the extremists that are allied with the moderates, senior administration officials say.
The Obama administration suspended the shipments last month after warehouses of equipment were seized by the so-called Islamic Front, a coalition of extremists that broke with the American-backed Free Syrian Army and has become an increasingly vital force in the nearly three-year-old uprising against the Syrian government.
But as a result of the rapidly shifting alliances within Syria’s fractured opposition, some of the extremists fought alongside the so-called Free Syrian Army in a battle against the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
That has eased American qualms about resuming the aid, the officials said.
Restoring the aid, they said, would send a message of American support at a time when opposition groups are threatening to boycott a Jan. 22 peace conference.
Administration officials insisted that no aid would be directly supplied to the so-called Islamic Front, an umbrella for half a dozen terrorist groups who favor the creation of an extremist state in Syria. Aid would continue to be funneled exclusively through the Supreme Military Council (SMC), the military wing of moderate, secular Syrian opposition.
But a senior administration official said: “You have to take into account questions of how the Supreme Military Council and the Islamic Front are interacting on the ground,” adding, “There’s no way to say 100 percent that it would not end up in the hands of the Islamic Front.”
When the State Department confirmed on Dec. 11 that it had cut off the aid, officials made it clear that it could be restored. The United States continued delivering humanitarian relief.
Among the questions now being debated at the White House and the State Department, officials said, is how to ensure that the aid flows only to vetted organizations, and whether armed groups that receive any of it could be compelled to pledge that they will not work with al-Qaeda.
Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since 2011. According to reports, Western powers and their regional allies – especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey – are supporting the militants operating inside the country.
According to the United Nations, more than 100,000 people have been killed and millions displaced due to the turmoil that has gripped Syria for over two years.
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