US President Barack Obama has ordered a waiver for restrictions on military aid for foreign forces and others in Syria, deeming it “essential to the national security interests” of the US to allow exceptions from provisions in the Arms Export Control Act.
A White House press release Thursday announced that foreign fighters in Syria supporting US special operations “to combat terrorism in Syria” would be excused from restrictions on military assistance.
“I hereby determine that the transaction, encompassing the provision of defense articles and services to foreign forces, irregular forces, groups, or individuals engaged in supporting or facilitating ongoing U.S. military operations to counter terrorism in Syria, is essential to the national security interests of the United States,” President Obama affirmed in the presidential determination and waiver.
The order delegates responsibility to the US secretary of state to work with and report to Congress on weapons export proposals, requiring 15 days’ notice before they are authorized.
Obama announced a similar waiver of the Arms Export Control Act in September 2013, following the Ghouta chemical attack in August of that year. That order facilitated the transfer of US military weaponry to “select vetted members” of opposition forces battling Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Thursday’s order appears less narrow in scope.
Last year, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2016, which allocated nearly $500 million to arm and train “moderate rebels” in Syria, despite a failed Pentagon program abandoned earlier in 2015.
The challenge of differentiating between terrorist forces, such as Al-Nusra Front, and more moderate forces in Syria, has been acknowledged by press secretaries in recent State Department briefings.
The “counterterrorism” pretext is just a “convenient misappropriation of language,” aimed at arming various militants to battle the Syrian Army and its allies, believes geopolitical analyst Patrick Henningsen.
“Putting this under the banner of fighting terrorism… follows on [from] a sort of fantasy concept that’s been pushed out as a talking point for the last year and a half, that if we train and equip the ‘moderate opposition’ they will fight [Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL)],”Henningsen told RT.
“They want to open the floodgates basically for trafficking weapons to religious extremists and militants and terrorist groups, internationally recognized terrorist groups… it’s all being done still under this kind of false pretense of the fight against ISIS, that somehow ‘moderate’ rebels, if they even exist, will turn their weapons and fight against ISIS. And we know from the facts on the ground, from the beginning, that [this] simply has not been the case. This is to arm the opposition to fight the Syrian government and to fight Russian forces. This is a desperate move on the part of the lame duck president.”
President Obama’s decision could lead to an almost immediate escalation of the conflict and basically put the US in a situation of “waging a proxy war against the Russians and Syrians,” a former Pentagon official, Michael Maloof, told.
“The rebels, whom we cannot identify, are going to be getting some very sophisticated weapons. Potentially, I should say, man-portable air defense systems, which can knock down Russian and Syrian aircraft,” Maloof said. “And the fact too, that we have stocks already in Europe, that can easily be transferred with this waiver. Under the waiver, it’s supposed to be a 15-day notification to Congress, but Congress, as of tonight, Washington time, is going to be out of session until January. So these arms can go within hours.”