The CIA has been delivering light machine guns and other arms to Syrian rebels for weeks, after US President Barack Obama’s decision to arm them.
The agency has also arranged for the Syrian opposition to receive anti-tank weaponry like rocket-propelled grenades through a third party, presumably one of the Gulf countries that has been arming the rebels, a senior US intelligence official and two former intelligence officials said Thursday.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the classified program publicly.
The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal first reported the lethal aid.
Top rebel commander General Salim Idris told NPR on Thursday that rebels had received no such aid from the US. The CIA declined to comment.
The officials said the aid has been arriving for more than a month, much of it delivered through a third party, which could explain why the rebel commander Idris does not believe the US directly delivered the aid.
The officials said the aid is delivered to commanders who have been vetted by the CIA, and the path of the weaponry is tracked through trusted parties within the country – though eventually, once they’re in the hands of fighters, the US loses sight of where the weapons go.
The rebels continue to request sophisticated anti-aircraft weaponry to take out the Syrian regime’s helicopters, but the officials said neither the US nor Syria’s neighboring countries, like Jordan or Israel, wants the rebels to have weaponry that may fall into the hands of the al-Qaida-linked rebel group al-Nusra, or captured by Hezbollah fighters who are bolstering the Syrian army’s effort.
The CIA program is classified as covert, which means it would be briefed to Congress’s intelligence committees but not its defense committees. That explains why some senior lawmakers on the defence committees have complained the lethal aid was not arriving, two of the officials said.