US President Barack Obama has signed a secret order allowing the CIA and other American agencies to support rebels seeking to overthrow the Assad regime, a US government source told Reuters.
Obama reportedly gave the order, known as an intelligence “finding”, earlier this year. The presidential finding also provides for US collaboration with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.
The full extent of the assistance the “finding” allows the CIA to give the Syrian rebels is unclear. It is also unknown precisely when Obama signed the order.
The Obama administration has been open about providing non-military support to the Syrian opposition. On Wednesday, the State Department said it had allotted a total of $25 million for “non-lethal” assistance to the Free Syrian Army. Some of that money may be used to buy communications devices such as encrypted radios, a US official said. The State Department also said the United States has set aside $64 million in humanitarian aid for the Syrian people.
Last year, Obama also signed an initial “finding” authorizing US support for Libyan rebels seeking to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi.
Also on Wednesday, the US Treasury confirmed it had granted authorization for Washington’s representative of the Free Syrian Army to conduct financial transactions on behalf of the rebel group. Reports that the Syrian Support Group had been allowed to do so first appeared last week.
The report of Obama’s authorization for covert rebel support comes amidst continued fighting between Syrian government troops and rebels over control of Aleppo, the country’s economic capital. Thousands of people have fled the city, while the government and rebels continue to release conflicting reports on the extent of their control over the city.
Meanwhile, there have been reports that the Free Syrian Army managed to obtain nearly two dozen surface-to-air missiles. While a Free Syrian Army representative denied those reports, he also said the rebels were preparing another surprise for Assad’s forces.
Senior US officials have also been ratcheting up their rhetoric against Assad. On Monday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta suggested that Assad “get the hell out” if he wants to protect himself and his family. A draft UN resolution calling for Assad to relinquish power in favor of a transitional government is also set to be voted on by the General Assembly on Friday. The document would deplore the Security Council for failing to act; a not-so-covert swipe at Russia’s and China’s continued panning of Security Council resolutions deemed to be one-sided.
Brian Becker, director of the ANSWER anti-war coalition, believes the revelation of Obama’s order doesn’t represent any shift in terms of US strategy towards Syria.
“All that does is reveal that the so-called diplomacy, the so-called looking for a negotiated settlement is a fraud – that the diplomacy is, in fact, a form of perjury,” he told RT. “The reality is that the US government – the Obama administration with the Pentagon and the CIA – has been neck-deep coordinating military operations to overthrow a sovereign government in Syria.”
He noted that there would have been no civil war going on in Syria if not for foreign intervention.
“The decisive factor in the equation for civil war is US intervention,” he said. “And would say, frankly, the Obama administration is guilty of war crimes against the Syrian people having cynically manipulated the situation. They have the blood of the Syrian people on their hands.”
Asia Times Online correspondent Pepe Escobar told RT that the leak's timing was intended to distort the true nature of Washington's covert operations on the ground in Syria.
“This intelligence finding signed by Obama – that’s the code for a secret order – this was signed six months ago. So the fact that Reuters has only been allowed now to report about it proves that there have been high deliberations in Washington: ‘should we let people know about what they already know?’"
"In fact, the Washington Post two weeks ago had already reported about it, and when the CIA wants to leak something in the US, they usually go to the Washington Post. The CIA and Mossad, on the ground [in Syria], side by side working with the Qataris, the Turks, the Saudis and a swarm of jihadis coming from everywhere, but especially from across the border in Iraq,” he argues.
Escobar says the leak was intended to make it look as though Washington was leading the Syrian campaign from behind the scenes, when in fact the US is “leading from the front lines alongside al-Qaeda-style Jihadists, Qatari intelligence, and Turkish logistics.”
He says the Western drive against Syria follows the breakdown in the international order caused by the 2011 Libyan intervention.
“There’s no semblance of international law since what was decided in Libya last year. The maneuvering and the wording of UN resolution 1973, authorizing war – a no-fly zone was actually war – against Libya. That was the end of international law as we know it. Nation-states don’t matter anymore. If you are a neo-colonial power, like Britain or France, or an empire like the US, you can trample on nations’ sovereignty anywhere, anyhow, anyplace, and this is exactly what’s happening. That’s why Russia has been opposed to it from the start, because Moscow sees that as the end of the sovereignty of nation-states,” he says.
He added that Syria's disintegration into a weak – or failed – state is part of Israel’s long-term designs on Iran.
“The battle of Aleppo could become an extended [rerun of] Lebanon in the 1970s. This is the ‘Lebanonization ‘of whole tracts of Northern Syria, in fact. And this, by the way, is the Israeli strategy. Israel wants a ‘Lebanonized’ and ‘Somalized’ [Syria], like the new Somalia in Libya; a very weak country with sectarian strife… an overextended army, and of course, innocuous against Israel. So this means opening the way for an Israeli attack against Iran in the next few months or perhaps in 2013.”
Watch the full interview with Pepe Escobar on RT