Syria crisis: First CIA-trained rebel unit about to join fighting against Assad regime, says President Obama

In efforts to assure Congress – and Senator John McCain – that action on Syria will be more than just symbolic, Barack Obama says US efforts to support rebels are now in full swing

The first Syrian rebels to be trained by a CIA programme in Jordan are sneaking into the warzone and ready to strike back at the Assad regime, US President Barack Obama has reportedly said.

In his efforts to secure the support of Republican Senator John McCain in a crucial upcoming Congress vote on military action, the president indicated that the covert operation to bolster rebels’ chances on the ground was about to pay dividends, according to the New York Times.

In a meeting at the White House lasting an hour yesterday, Mr Obama and Mr McCain appeared united in their agreement that any action on Syria needed to go beyond the superficial, and the president has since said he wants to “degrade Assad’s capabilities”.

The first cell of 50 rebels trained and armed by the CIA, reportedly in Jordan, has begun to cross over into enemy lines.

While an airstrike could include aircraft, artillery and missile attacks, the failed candidate in the 2008 US presidential elections is among many in his political party who feel that the only way to really impact on the regime’s military capabilities is to arm the rebels.

Indeed, the Wall Street Journal yesterday reported that Mr McCain had said it was “shameful” that the US had previously – three months ago – promised arms for the opposition, only to fail to deliver.

Following the reassurances offered yesterday, Mr Obama has now won the conditional support of two of his fiercest foreign policy critics, with fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham joining Mr McCain in saying he was prepared to vote in favour of the authorisation the president seeks.

Mr McCain added that a congressional vote against the administration’s request “would be catastrophic in its consequences” for US credibility abroad.

And Mr Graham said: “There will never be a political settlement in Syria as long as Assad is winning.”

In a statement to Congressional leaders today, the president said he was confident that Congress would vote in favour of US military action in Syria and confirmed there exists a broader plan to help rebels defeat President Assad's forces.

“What we are envisioning is something limited. It is something proportional. It will degrade Assad's capabilities,” Mr Obama said.

“At the same time we have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition,” he said.

The president also reiterated his “high confidence” that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people, and added that it posed a serious national security threat to the US and to the whole Middle East region.

Repeating the key argument that his administration has made in trying to win over Congress, Mr Obama said that not holding Mr Assad accountable would send the dangerous message to the world that international red lines on issues like nuclear proliferation and the use of weapons of mass destruction had little meaning.

“We are going to be asking for hearings and a prompt vote,” he said. “I'm very appreciative that everybody here has already begun to schedule hearings and intends to take a vote as soon as all of Congress comes back early next week.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living