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international affairs

Plan to Arm Syrian Rebels Can Move Forward, Though Everyone Doubts It Will Work

A rebel fighter holds an improvised mortar shell at a factory in Aleppo on July 7, 2013.

Earlier this month, the House and Senate intelligence committees delayed the shipment of arms to Syrian rebels, but now they've approved the CIA weapons shipment — though they don't sound very enthusiastic about it. Administration officials met with lawmakers in the past few weeks to discuss their doubts about the effectiveness of President Obama's plan, and their worries that weapons might fall into the hands of Islamist extremists. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said on Monday that the committee reached an consensus late last week, despite “very strong concerns about the strength of the administration’s plans in Syria and its chances for success.”

According to the Washington Post, the agreement allows money in the CIA's budget to be "reprogrammed for the Syria operation." The rebels could begin receiving arms in the next few weeks, though no timeline has been laid out. It's unclear how much the operation will cost, but it should be cheaper and easier than U.S. military intervention.

Later on Monday, Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin released a letter he received on Friday outlining the cost and risks of various options for military involvement in Syria. In response to questions raise by Levin and John McCain last week, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said the U.S. military could train and advise the rebels, conduct limited airstrikes, establish a no-fly zone, set up a buffer zone inside Syria, and secure the country's chemical weapons stockpile. However, he cautioned that some of those options could cost as much as $1 billion per month, and might backfire anyway. Dempsey noted that the use of force in Syria “is no less than an act of war,” and “we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control.”

The New York Times reports that even the White House is being more cautious about the prospects of turning the tide in Syria. The administration has referred to the impending end of Assad's regime for two years, last week Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “While there are shifts in momentum on the battlefield, Bashar al-Assad, in our view, will never rule all of Syria again.” Though, he might continue to rule part of Syria as the country's conflict drags on.

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Photo: JM LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images