World Bulletin / News Desk
President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S.support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency.
Obama's order, approved earlier this year and known as an intelligence "finding," broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad.
This and other developments signal a shift toward growing, albeit still circumscribed, support forAssad's armed opponents - a shift that intensified following last month's failure of the U.N. Security Council to agree on tougher sanctions against the Damascus government.
The White House is for now apparently stopping short of giving the rebels lethal weapons, even as some U.S. allies do just that.
But U.S. and European officials have said that there have been noticeable improvements in the coherence and effectiveness of Syrian rebel groups in the past few weeks. That represents a significant change in assessments of the rebels by Western officials, who previously characterized Assad's opponents as a disorganized, almost chaotic, rabble.
Precisely when Obama signed the secret intelligence authorization, an action not previously reported, could not be determined.
The full extent of clandestine support that agencies like the CIA might be providing also is unclear.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined comment.
A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.
Last week, Reuters reported that, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey had established a secretbase near the Syrian border to help direct vital military and communications support to Assad's opponents.
This "nerve center" is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles (100 km) from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.
Turkey's government has been demanding Assad's departure with growing vehemence. Turkish authorities are said by current and former U.S. government officials to be increasingly involved in providing Syrian rebels with training and possibly equipment.
European government sources said wealthy families in Saudi Arabia and Qatar were providing significant financing to the rebels. Senior officials of the Saudi and Qatari governments have publicly called for Assad's departure.
On Tuesday, NBC News reported that the Free Syrian Army had obtained nearly two dozen surface-to-air missiles, weapons that could be used against Assad's helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Syrian government armed forces have employed such air power more extensively in recent days.
NBC said the shoulder-fired missiles, also known as MANPADs, had been delivered to the rebels viaTurkey.
On Wednesday, however, Bassam al-Dada, a political adviser to the Free Syrian Army, denied the NBC report, telling the Arabic-language TV network Al-Arabiya that the group had "not obtained any such weapons at all." U.S. government sources said they could not confirm the MANPADs deliveries, but could not rule them out either.
Current and former U.S. and European officials previously said that weapons supplies, which were being organized and financed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, were largely limited to guns and a limited number of anti-tank weapons, such as bazookas.
Indications are that U.S. agencies have not been involved in providing weapons to Assad's opponents. In order to do so, Obama would have to approve a supplement, known as a "memorandum of notification, to his initial broad intelligence finding.
Further such memoranda would have to be signed by Obama to authorize other specific clandestine operations to support Syrian rebels.
Reuters first reported last week that the White House had crafted a directive authorizing greater U.S. covert assistance to Syrian rebels. It was unclear at that time whether Obama had signed it.
Separately from the president's secret order, the Obama administration has stated publicly that it is providing some backing for Assad's opponents.
The State Department said on Wednesday the U.S. government had set aside a total of $25 million for"non-lethal" assistance to the Syrian opposition. A U.S. official said that was mostly for communications equipment, including encrypted radios.
The State Department also says the United States has set aside $64 million in humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people, including contributions to the World Food Program, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other aid agencies.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury confirmed it had granted authorization to the Syrian Support Group, Washington representative of one of the most active rebel factions, the Free Syrian Army, to conduct financial transactions on the rebel group's behalf. The authorization was first reported on Friday by Al-Monitor, a Middle East news and commentary website.
Last year, when rebels began organizing themselves to challenge the rule of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Obama also signed an initial "finding" broadly authorizing secret U.S. backing for them. But the president moved cautiously in authorizing specific measures to support them.
While U.S. and allied government experts believe that the Syrian rebels have been making some progress against Assad's forces lately, most believe the conflict is nowhere near resolution, and could go on for years.
'We do need to have peace [in Syria], we need to have negotiations and for that we need to stop bombings against the civilians,' Manuel Valls says
In a statement at the Munich conference, US Secretary of State has said that Russia will continue to face sanctions unless it implement the agreements made at Minsk last year
Medvedev has said the current conditions in the world between Russia and the West are akin to a Cold War.
At least one teen may have fired fatal shots, authorities say
Two loyalists one a local elected member from the ruling CNDD-FDD party and another a member of a youth league have been killed in Burundi
According to interior minister Angelino Alfano, a second autopsy in Italy into the death of the Italian student Gulio Regeni Mr Alfano said the student had suffered 'something inhuman, animal-like, an unacceptable violence.'
A MiG-23 fighter jet of Libya's government has been shot down while carrying out airstrikes against rebel positions in the coastal city of Benghazi.
Venezuela's Supreme Court approved President Nicolas Maduro's "economic emergency" decree on Thursday, which has been seen as an attempt to render the legislative body useless.
First meeting between leaders of Eastern, Western Christianity in 1,000 years
The US has approved selling up to eight Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, along with training, radar and other equipment, worth a total of $699m.
EU warns Athens to control external borders within three months
'Macedonia should be ready to stop the entrance of the refugees on its border,' Austrian FM says
Diplomatic sources suggest that EU foreign ministers meeting Monday in Brussels are now expected to approve ending these sanctions completely
According to Czech president, the only way to solve the ongoing refugee crisis is to fall back upon deportation
Tunisian government is preparing to consequences of potential foreign military intervention in the southeastern neighbor
Many refugees who have come to the Nordic country are now having second thoughts