Favored Syrian rebel factions are receiving military equipment and training from American forces in neighboring Qatar, according to interviews made public in May.
The interviews, aired by the PBS news magazine program “Frontline,” reveal how the Obama administration has accelerated support for Syria’s rebel militia after two years of promising to supply only non-lethal aid in the civil conflict.
According to one interview, rebels have frequently met with American forces in an undisclosed location in Turkey, a country that borders Syria to the north. The Americans, who are believed to be agents with the Central Intelligence Agency, provide travel to nearby Qatar where the rebels say they receive training and weapons.
Rebel soldiers showed journalist Muhammad Ali boxes of what was described as Russian-made ammunition supplied by the Americans, and described receiving mortars and guided anti-tank missiles. Along with equipment, rebels say American forces trained them on how to conduct ambushes, raid vehicles and buildings and “finish off” opposing soldiers who had not been killed.
Soldiers say they were warned that if their secret training in Qatar was revealed, the Americans would stop supplying support to rebel groups. Frontline did not appear to be able to independently verify the accounts of those they spoke with.
The U.S. government has been a vocal supporter of rebel forces in Syria since the civil conflict began in 2011. For months, the Obama administration committed hundreds of millions of dollars in non-lethal aid to rebel forces that, among other things, included body armor, night-vision goggles, office supplies and even ambulances.
But the Frontline episode demonstrated how the Obama administration may be taking a more proactive role in the Syrian crisis by supplying direct military training and equipment to rebel forces. This was affirmed about a week after the Frontline episode aired when National Security Advisor Susan Rice told CNN that the government was providing both lethal and non-lethal aid to rebel soldiers.
“The United States has ramped up its support for the moderate vetted opposition, providing lethal and non-lethal support where we can to support both the civilian opposition and the military opposition,” Rice said in the interview.
The administration has still refused to directly acknowledge the type of support it is providing to rebel groups in Syria.