By Brianna Keilar, Jessica Yellin and Tom Cohen
Reluctant approval from Congress for providing military support to Syrian rebels allows the Obama administration to move forward with plans first announced almost six weeks ago.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Tuesday that the goal of the military aid expected to include small arms, ammunition and perhaps anti-tank weapons is to keep the Syrian opposition going against forces aligned with President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Noting al-Assad's forces have been helped by Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as Iran, Carney said Syrian rebels need the help of the United States and allied nations to withstand an increased assault.
"The aid is intended to help the opposition resist Assad and eventually prevail," Carney said, adding that any resolution of Syria's civil war will require a political transition.FULL STORY
By Barbara Starr
Even as the Obama administration refuses to openly say whether CIA deliveries of small arms and ammunition to Syrian opposition fighters has begun, there is increasing doubt in many quarters that U.S. shipments will make much of a difference in fighting on the ground, as the intelligence picture for the rebels grows more dire.
"I don't believe the rebels are doomed, but I don't think there's any doubt that on the battlefield the advantage is clearly with (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad," Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said Thursday on CNN's Situation Room.
"Why wouldn't there be? Tons of Russian equipment coming in, the Iranian Revolution Guard, jihadists from all over the region, 5,000 Hezbollah fighters and he's still calling it a civil war. What it is turning into is a regional conflict and the deciding factor on the battlefield is air power," McCain said.
Intelligence assessments appear to agree with that. Several U.S. officials CNN has spoken with say simply trying to gather the latest information on the number of fighters and weapons inventories on the ground is now a major priority.
By Jamie Crawford
Secretary of State John Kerry hit back on Monday at the notion the United States is not doing enough to support the Syrian opposition.
"We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind wondering where the support is or if it is coming, and we are determined to change the calculation on the ground for President (Bashar al-Assad)," Kerrry said in London.
Making his first foreign trip as America's top diplomat, Kerry appeared at a news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Kerry said the United States and its allies are pursuing a political resolution to the civil war that assures a broad cross section of Syrian society is represented in a new democratic government.
By Jill Dougherty
The president's top diplomat said Friday he wasn't looking "backwards" at the White House quashing of a proposal last summer to arm the Syrian rebels, but was instead looking at what the United States will do regarding helping the opposition.
Last summer President Barack Obama's national security team, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, backed a proposal to provide weapons to Syrian rebels but, U.S. officials told CNN on Thursday, the White House blocked the idea.
That rift was unexpectedly revealed Thursday in testimony on Capitol Hill. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, asked Panetta and Dempsey: "Did you support the recommendation by Secretary of State - then-Secretary of State Clinton and then-head of CIA General Petraeus that we provide weapons to the resistance in Syria? Do you support that?
By Barbara Starr
The Syrian regime this week fired at least two Iranian-made, short-range ballistic missiles in what appears to be an effort to more precisely target Syrian rebels, two U.S. military officials tell CNN.
The Fateh A-110 missiles are more accurate than the older Scud variants that Syrian government forces have used in recent weeks.
The U.S. military officials declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information. The Iranian government has not commented on the issue.
The Fateh trades range for accuracy. It can travel about 125 miles, while the Scud can go about 185 miles. But the Fateh has a "circular error probable" or - CEP - of 330 feet, while the Scud's CEP is 1,480 feet. CEP is defined as the radius of a circle in which half of a missile's lethal payload falls and is the standard measure of a missile's accuracy.
Sources tell CNN’s Barbara Starr that the Pentagon and US intelligence services are consulting with Syria's neighbors Turkey, Israel and Jordan about what to do if it looks like Assad is about to launch a chemical attack on his own people.
A senior US official says all the allies are now considering how to keep Syria from putting chemical warheads on its artillery or missiles.
But an airstrike to stop it, could cause havoc if residual chemicals escape.
What if Assad leaves? US officials say they have long been planing for 'the day after Assad" – such as training Jordanian troops to provide security – but for now they just hope Syrians troops will keep those chemical weapons under lock and key.
By Chris Lawrence
Syrian rebels are through waiting for substantial arms from western nations and Arab countries and are instead increasingly cutting their own deals to get weapons from extremists, including al Qaeda-like groups, a senior U.S. lawmaker told CNN.
"Even rebels we've identified as somebody we could work with have partnered with jihadists, because they have their own sources of money and weapons," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said in an interview.
The Obama administration has been cautiously aiding in the vetting of Syrian rebels, and sticking to its policy of only providing non-lethal aid like computers and satellite communication gear.
Key nations of the "Friends of Syria" group met in New York Friday to strategize, once again, on how to give more help to the Syrian opposition. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced another $15 million in aid, for a total of almost $45 million, for what she called the "unarmed opposition."
By Jill Dougherty
As more areas in Syria slip from control of the Syrian military, the United States is training local opposition members how to run a local government free from the grip of the Assad regime.
The State Department says it is running "training programs" for the members of opposition local coordinating councils in "liberated" areas who are beginning to re-establish civilian authority. The programs help them on issues of civil administration, human-rights training and other services.
The council members are learning "the kinds of things that they might need from the international community as they begin to rebuild their towns," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in her Wednesday briefing.
"They're asking for help in how to budget. They're asking for help in how to keep utilities running. How to ensure that the institutions of the state that, you know, provide services to the population, come back up and running. So we are open to supporting all of those kinds of needs," she explained.
By Larry Shaughnessy
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday accused Iran of training pro-Assad militias in Syria in an increased effort to to prop up the embattled Syrian president.
"There's now an indication that they're trying to develop - or trying to train a militia within Syria to be able to fight on behalf of the regime," Panetta said during a news briefing at the Pentagon. "We are seeing a growing presence by Iran and that is of deep concern to us that that's taking place."
U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who briefed the media with Panetta, said this Iranian-trained militia appears to be made up of local civilians, "generally Shia, some Alawite."