President Barack Obama may authorize the shipment of new air defense systems to rebel forces in Syria’s ongoing civil war, a new Associated Press report states.
Citing an unnamed US official, the AP stated Obama is mulling over the idea of sending man-portable air-defense systems, also known as MANPADs, to Syrian opposition groups, a move that would mark a notable shift compared to the White House’s past statements.
As RT reported last month, the Obama administration has been interested in employing new ways to put pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad and boost the opposing rebels, who have lost ground in the conflict over the last few months.
Officials then stated the US would send anti-tank rockets and humanitarian aid to the opposition, but noted MANPADs – portable missile-launchers – would not be part of the package, due to fears they could land in extremist hands and potentially be used to take down commercial airliners.
If authorized now, the MANPAD shipments could be made by Saudi Arabia, where Obama is currently meeting with King Abdullah. Disappointed by Obama’s decision step back from striking Syria last year, the Saudis have been urging the US to authorize such assistance since early this year.
Obama, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, met with Abdullah for about two hours on Friday, although no decision on arms shipments is expected to be made while the president is in the Middle East.
According to the AP report, the president’s possible rethinking of the situation is due to “the greater understanding the U.S. now has about the composition of the Syrian rebels,” presumably referring to the belief that moderate rebels have fortified their position against radical groups like the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra group.
At the same time, the unnamed official also said Obama is still worried about the consequences of escalating a conflict that’s dragged beyond three years with no clear end in sight.
“The Syrian war is a stalemate,” Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and current foreign policy advisor to Obama with the Brookings Institution, said in January. “The rebels lack the organization and weapons to defeat Assad; the regime lacks to loyal manpower to suppress the rebellion. Both sides’ external allies…are ready to supply enough money and arms to fuel the stalemate for the foreseeable future.”