US President Barack Obama has asked Congress for $500 million to train and arm vetted members of the Syrian opposition. The funding is part of a greater $65.8 billion overseas operations budget request.
The White House on Thursday proposed the funding for “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 proposal was part of the $65.8 billion (48.3 billion euros) overseas operations request to Congress for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins October 1. President Obama made the request in a letter to the House of Representatives Speaker, John Boehner.
If approved, the $500 million in funding for Syria would be a significant escalation of US involvement in the more than four-year conflict between rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Washington has been weighing options for providing additional assistance to rebel forces beyond the nearly $287 million in non-lethal assistance.
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.
Hayden said US officials “continue to believe that there is no military solution to this crisis and that the United States should not put American troops into combat in Syria.”
The program would also be supplemented by $1 billion in assistance to Syria’s neighbors – Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq – who are struggling with an influx of refugees and the threat of extremists spilling over their borders.
Iraq in particular is facing an offensive by the Sunni extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has seized large areas of Iraq with aims to establish a purist Islamic enclave across both sides of the Syrian border.
The total overseas contingency package is about $20 billion less than the current fiscal year, and $20 billion less than the $79.4 billion place-holder figure that was submitted to Congress in February. Officials say the decrease is in part due to Obama’s plans to drawdown the US military presence in Afghanistan to about 10,000 forces by the beginning of next year.
However, Washington is still waiting for the Afghan government to sign a security agreement with the US that would allow those forces to stay.
The overseas contingency requests also includes a previously announced $1 billion program that would increase the US military presence in central and eastern Europe.
hc/jr (Reuters, AFP, AP)