— WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's decision to authorize lethal aid to Syrian rebels marks a deepening of U.S. involvement in the two-year civil war. But U.S. officials are still grappling with what type and how much weaponry to send the opposition forces and how to ensure it stays out of the hands of extremists battling for control of Syria.
U.S. officials confirmed Obama's authorization Thursday after the White House announced it had conclusive evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime used chemical weapons against opposition forces. Obama has said the use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line," suggesting greater American intervention.
While a small percentage of the 93,000 people reportedly killed in Syria are said to have died from chemical weapons — U.S. intelligence puts the number at 100 to 150 — the White House views the deployment of the deadly agents as a flouting of international norms. Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, said the multiple chemical weapons attacks gave greater urgency to the situation.
"Suffice it to say this is going to be different in both scope and scale in terms of what we are providing," Rhodes said of the ramped-up U.S. response. But he added that the U.S. would make specific determinations "on our own timeline."
The Obama administration could give the rebels a range of weapons, including small arms, assault rifles, shoulder-fired rocket-propelled grenades and other anti-tank missiles. The opposition forces could operate most of that equipment without significant training.
In Syria Friday, the Foreign Ministry said, "The White House has issued a statement full of lies about the use of chemical weapons in Syria based on fabricated information. The United States is using cheap tactics to justify President Barack Obama's decision to arm the Syrian opposition."