WASHINGTON – Today, Senator Mike Lee said Obama’s announcement to expand support to Syrian rebels raises serious security questions regarding the composition of Syrian opposition forces and the ability of the United States to ensure that terrorist groups do not have access to U.S. assistance.
Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) passed its annual authorization bill for the Department of Defense, which included a provision that would authorize the Secretary of Defense to provide a broad range of assistance, including lethal aid, to opposition forces in Syria.
“The situation in Syria is desperate and we should be constantly assessing it for threats to U.S. security, but I am concerned that sending American weapons and training into this crisis could be like pouring gas on a fire,” Lee stated. “When senior members of the president’s national security team cannot guarantee that assistance won’t fall into the hands of our enemies, or that the people we train today won’t be fighting alongside al-Qaeda tomorrow, we should be very careful in considering approaches that could assist extremists in that conflict.”
Following the March 6 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), CENTCOM Commander General Lloyd Austin stated in an answer for the record:
“No, we cannot guarantee the assistance we provide doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Undoubtedly, some weapons and funds flowing into Syria wind up in the hands of extremists such as Al Nusrah Front or the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).”
On February 11, during a SASC hearing regarding the relationship of moderate opposition and extremist groups in Syria, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Senator Lee:
“Well, they are an agreement of convenience, I would say. Oftentimes, these groups will apparently – which are quite fluid, by the way – may disagree ideologically, but will, if it’s convenient for them in a tactical context, agree to work together.”
The bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, was reported out of committee by a vote of 25-1, with Senator Lee as the only “NO” vote due to the Syrian provision, as well as other concerns.