The Obama administration, seeing the Syrian conflict tipping against the Assad regime, is weighing deeper intervention on the rebel side, The New York Times reported Wednesday evening, citing unnamed officials involved in the discussions.
The administration is considering several alternatives, including directly providing arms to some opposition fighters, the sources said.
By next week, NATO may have to decide whether to deploy surface-to-air missiles in its member Turkey, ostensibly to protect it from Syrian missiles that could carry chemical weapons. Turkey is openly backing the rebels.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday the Patriot missile system would not be “for use beyond the Turkish border.” But some strategists and administration officials, the Times reports, expect that Syrian pilots might fear how else the missile batteries could be used and therefore fear to bomb the northern border towns where the rebels control considerable territory. A NATO survey team is in Turkey, examining possible sites for the batteries.
Bolder U.S. options include arming opposition fighters directly, not just through third countries like Qatar. A riskier course would be to put CIA officers or allied intelligence on the ground in Syria, to work more closely with opposition fighters in areas that they now largely control, the Times reports.
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President Barack Obama’s re-election and recent tactical successes by rebel forces have emboldened the administration, a senior official told the paper.
A major example of the rebels’ gains came Wednesday when they apparently used surface-to-air missiles for the first time to shoot down two government aircraft in less than 24 hours, the Guardian reported.
The downing of the aircraft is being hailed as a significant tactical advance in northern Syria, where fierce clashes between Assad regime forces and rebels over the summer have given way to several months of stalemate and rising despair on the opposition side.
A warplane crashed Wednesday near Darat Azzah outside Aleppo after being shot at from the ground. The wounded pilot was captured. Late Tuesday, a regime helicopter also crashed. Several videos uploaded to the Internet clearly showed a missile hitting it before it plunged to earth.
Meanwhile, at least 50 people were killed and more than 80 wounded by two car bombs in a pro-government Christian and Druze district near Damascus early on Wednesday.