GOP Drafting Legislation on Arming Syrian Rebels

September 15, 2014  

House Republicans want to keep the Obama administration on a short leash when it comes to arming and training Syrian rebels, Politico reported on Monday.

The legislation that the GOP is drafting to give the White House authority to provide military support to the Free Syria Army will require the Obama administration to send a progress report to Congress every 90 days, according to senior Capitol Hill sources and a draft of the resolution obtained by the website.

The legislation will also mandate that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel send a report to Congress 15 days before arming or training the rebels, according to the report.

President Barack Obama is looking for buy-in from Congress on his plan to confront the “Islamic State” (IS), which has seized control of large regions in Syria and western Iraq.

However, the GOP proposal explicitly states that it does not give Obama authority to send U.S. forces into combat, or anywhere where they could face combat, a key concern from House and Senate lawmakers in both parties.

Obama would have to submit to Congress a separate “Authorization to Use Military Force” in order to win approval for any sustained military operations using America personnel, according to Politico.

“Nothing in this section shall be construed to constitute a specific statutory authorization for the introduction of United States’ Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations where hostilities are clearly indicated by circumstances,” the Republican-drafted legislation states.

Throughout the civil war in Syria, there have been calls on the West to arm the rebels in order to help them fight President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces. Small-scale weapons aid and some military training has already been supplied to select rebel groups, along with “non-lethal” aid such as medical supplies and other equipment.

More extensive assistance has been ruled out, due to fear that jihadist rebel groups, such as IS and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, might get their hands on these weapons.

Officials in Washington said recently that the Obama administration has proposed a $500 million program to train and equip the moderate opposition fighting in Syria. A similar plan has been proposed by Britain as well.

According to Politico, there is significant concern on Capitol Hill in how the “vetting” of rebel fighters will take place, and who exactly the United States would be provide training and equipment to under this operation.

White House aides and congressional staffers negotiated extensively over the issue throughout the weekend. Lawmakers are worried that rebels who have ties to IS or other terrorist organizations may end up being provided weapons or training.

Hill aides said the basic outlines of Obama’s request are something Congress has dealt with repeatedly over the last 13 years.

“We have done a lot of training and equipping since 9/11,” noted a senior House Armed Services Committee involved in drafting the legislation. “This is not something new, at least in concept.”

There is no plan yet for a House vote on the legislation, but a vote is expected this week, reported Politico.

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