U.S. Congress has "secretly" approved the delivery of light arms to Syrian rebels deemed "moderate" in the south of the country, Reuters news agency reported on Tuesday, citing U.S. and European security officials.
According to report, closed-door Congress votes have funded the arms deliveries until the end of government fiscal year 2014, which ends on Sept. 30.
The weapons include a variety of small arms, as well as some more powerful weapons, such as anti-tank rockets. They do not include, however, shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, which could shoot down military or civilian aircrafts, the officials told the news agency.
Speaking to Reuters, Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA analyst and sometime foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama, described the Syrian civil war as a "stalemate."
"The rebels lack the organization and weapons to defeat Assad; the regime lacks the loyal manpower to suppress the rebellion. Both sides' external allies... are ready to supply enough money and arms to fuel the stalemate for the foreseeable future," Riedel said.
A U.S. official familiar with recent developments said national security officials and members of Congress are more confident that weapons delivered to southern Syria are going to, and remaining in, the hands of moderate rebels rather than militant jihadist factions.
Congress approved funding for weapons deliveries to the Syrian rebels in classified sections of defense appropriations legislation, two sources familiar with the matter said. It was not clear when the funding was approved, but unclassified defense funding passed Congress in late December.
Some additional budget tweaks may be necessary to ensure that all the approved funding is fully available for disbursement during the current fiscal year.
Yet, officials who support providing U.S. arms to the rebels acknowledge that this has not greatly increased U.S. expectations of victory by anti-Assad forces, whether moderate or militant.
Chemical weapons destruction
Meanwhile, A U.S. cargo ship departed Monday on a mission to destroy dozens of containers of deadly chemical weapons being removed from Syria as part of international efforts to dismantle that country's poison gas and nerve agent program.
Defense officials said the MV Cape Ray, which was loaded with sophisticated equipment, left Monday night for the roughly two-week trip across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean. The mission was delayed briefly when there was an electrical problem with one of the ship's two main engines.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent a letter to Captain Rick Jordan and the 135-member crew telling them they were embarking on a "historic mission."
"You are about to accomplish something no one has tried," Hagel wrote in the letter released by the Defense Department.
"You will be destroying at sea one of the world's largest stockpiles of chemical weapons and helping make a safer world," he wrote.
Last year, the U.N. Security Council last year backed a U.S.-Russian deal to remove and destroy Syria's chemical arsenal.
The agreement was brokered as a way to avert US missile strikes that Washington threatened after a chemical attack near Damascus, which Washington and other Western governments blamed on the regime.
Under the accord, Syria's entire chemical arsenal is to be eliminated by June 30.
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