Syrian Rebels Just Started Receiving U.S. Weapons Shipments

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Photo: MOHAMED KADDOUR/AFP/Getty Images

Long before the situation in Syria escalated into a United States bomb threat and Vladimir Putin touting his commitment to peace in the New York Times, the U.S. was focused mainly on whether it should arm the Syrian rebels. In June, President Obama announced Bashar al-Assad had definitely crossed his "red line" and authorized sending weapons to the opposition. The Washington Post reports that those arms just started arriving. The shipments were delayed first by Congress, and then by the logistical challenge of delivering weapons to a warzone without letting them fall into the hands of jihadists. The shipments that have arrived don't include what the rebels were hoping for – night-vision goggles and body armor – and the United States has refused to send the antitank and antiaircraft weapons they want most. However, the rebels say they'll take the shipments of light weapons and other munitions. It "doesn't solve all the needs the guys have, but it's better than nothing," said one opposition official.

The Wall Street Journal reports that many rebels were counting on U.S. airstrikes, and had already adjusted their battle plans accordingly. They said the delay is strengthening both Assad and extremist rebel groups. "The jihadists benefit in all the chaos," said Samir Nashar, a Syrian Opposition Coalition member. "They gain as the moderates waffle about waiting for the rest of the world."

U.S. officials said the rebels had misinterpreted their statements and set their expectations too high. Many predicted in June that it was too late to turn the tide in Syria's civil war, and Khaled Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian Opposition Coalition, confirmed that what Washington has sent so far isn't likely to do much. "The Syrian Military Council is receiving so little support that any support we receive is a relief," he said. "But if you compare what we are getting compared to the assistance Assad receives from Iran and Russia, we have a long battle ahead of us."