Syria civil war: US will arm moderate rebels, says Barack Obama, confirming use of chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad's regime

Debate has been raging for weeks inside the White House over the worsening conflict

The United States has signalled it is preparing to insert itself directly in the Syrian civil war by for the first time giving direct military support, including arms, to moderate rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The move, confirmed by a senior foreign policy official, coincided with a formal determination by the White House, also for the first time, that President al-Assad has used chemical weapons in the two-year-old struggle. It was that assessment, they said, that persuaded President Barack Obama to offer the rebels military hardware.

“The president has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has,” White House deputy national security adviser Benjamin Rhodes told reporters in a conference call on Thursday evening. He said that US intelligence estimates that attacks using the chemicals had killed between 100 and 150 people.

Debate has been raging for weeks inside the White House over the worsening Syrian conflict which is now believed to have taken more than 90,000 lives. President Obama believes that the American public is not eager to see the country drawn into another war, even in a limited way, so soon on the heels of those in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he has been saying for months that the use of chemical weapons would be a trigger for American action.

“Following a deliberative review, our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year,” the White House said in a statement. By accepting that President al-Assad has used chemical weapons, the US is catching up with the European intelligence community which had already reached that conclusion.  

The US made the announcements one day after a visit to Washington by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, whose meeting with John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, was dominated by the Syrian crisis. The topic is now certain to eclipse other business at next week’s G8 summit to be hosted by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in Northern Ireland. Discussions there will be key because Russia, Syria’s biggest defender, will be attending.

Mr Rhodes gave scant detail of what it is that the US means to supply the rebels. But just this week the head of the opposition Supreme Military Council, or SMC, made an impassioned appeal to the US and other nations for arms as its main base in the city of Aleppo has been seen as increasingly threatened by government forces.

But that the US will be supplying lethal arms no longer seems to be in question. “Suffice it to say, this is going to be different in both scope and scale in terms of what we are providing to the SMC than what we have provided before,” Mr Rhodes said. It is likely that the CIA will be tasked with determining what should be shipped to the Council and how it will be logistically set up.

Meanwhile there were reports that contingency plans drawn up by the US military for consideration by the White House include the imposition of a limited no-fly zone in parts of Syria close to Jordan. The zone’s purpose would be to shield an area inside Jordan that would be created as a base to train and arm the Syrian rebels.

Mr Rhodes however declined to comment on any such development. The president, he insisted, has “not made any decision to pursue a military option such as a no-fly zone.”  But he made clear that the decision to arm the rebels had been borne from deepening concern about the conflict and the threat it poses to regional stability.

“There is an urgency to the situation,” he commented. “There has been an urgency to the situation for two years. “It’s particularly urgent right now in terms of the situation on the ground, in some respect, because we have seen Hezbollah and Iran increase their own involvement in the conflict.”

News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
Voices
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

All Primary NQT's

£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

DT Teacher - Food Technology

£100 - £145 per day + Pension and travel: Randstad Education Maidstone: SUPPLY...

Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star