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.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Sport
England’s opening goalscorer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battles with Scotland’s Charlie Mulgrew
FootballEngland must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Life and Style
life
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

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

What are Jaden and Willow on about?

Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

Cold war

How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert