Obama and Congress make it easier to arm Syrian rebels with anti-aircraft weapons — Interview on The Real News

(This article is published in AlterNet.)

I joined The Real News Network to discuss two recent developments that make it easier for the US to arm Syrian rebels with heavier weapons.

On December 8, the White House announced a new waiver order by President Obama that amends the 1976 Arms Export Control Act and lifts restrictions on military support for foreign fighters in countries like Syria, if deemed “essential to the national security interests of the United States.”

Two weeks later, on December 23, Obama signed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contains a provision that will allow the US to send man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) to vetted Syrian rebels, with a layer of congressional oversight. As AlterNet previously reported, this new provision was quietly agreed to in the last minute, and was buried in the accompanying 3,076-page conference report.

Critics have warned that, if anti-aircraft weapons are sent to Syria, even if they are given to vetted rebels, they would likely end up in the hands of extremist groups, and could be used to shoot down civilian airliners. Many so-called moderate rebels collaborate with extremist groups like Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly known as Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra) or other fundamentalist Islamist militias like Ahrar al-Sham. And MANPADS are small and easily transportable.

A bipartisan group of more than two dozen members of the House sent President Obama a letter in May pressuring him not to approve the transfer of shoulder-fired missiles to Syria. “The concerns repeatedly and unanimously expressed by the House of Representatives were validated when the Pentagon confirmed that last September, Syrian rebels vetted and trained by the United States handed over their equipment to the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front,” the lawmakers wrote.

Although President-elect Trump has suggested he will cut US support for rebels committed to toppling the Syrian government, close US allies like Qatar and Saudi Arabia have maintained that they will ramp up assistance to the militants. US officials have said Gulf states and Turkey may even turn a blind eye if rich donors send MANPADS to fighters in Syria. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have supported extremist groups in Syria for years.

You can watch my interview here or on The Real News’ website: