White House officials, in what appears to be a choreographed series of leaks, revealed to the Reuters news service that the White House has crafted a presidential finding authorizing covert support to the Syrian rebels, though it apparently stops short of providing arms. The leakers remained coy as to whether or not President Obama has actually signed the document, but it follows by about a week, the angry vows that followed last week's twin Russian and Chinese vetoes of a UN Security Council resolution that would have opened the door to military intervention against the Assad regime. Right after the veto, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice declared that Washington would "intensify" its efforts "outside the Security Council" to bring pressure to bear on Assad, and assist "those in need." And on Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added that "I have to say that we are also increasing our efforts to assist the opposition."
The leaks to Reuters seem designed to confirm that the White House has, indeed, begun to step up assistance to the Syrian rebels, whoever they may be. Reuters adds that the White House is seeking ways to provide communications equipment and intelligence, and reveals that it has already provided encrypted radios. Clinton also hinted that if they could control a swath of territory inside Syria, then even more backing of the rebels would follow.
The rest of the Reuters piece appears calculated to score political points for Obama, by portraying a president (and his national security advisor, Tom Donilon) who refuses to rush to judgement, who deliberates on all the possibilities before making any difficult decisions and is worried that any arms supplied to the rebels might fall into the wrong hands. It manages to contradict itself, however, by reporting, on the one hand, that the above-mentioned directive sat on Donilon's desk "for quite some time without further action," while, on the other hand, quoting an unnamed White House official declaring, "I will not get into specifics, but no policy decision like this languishes at the White House."
But the question of supplying arms to the Syrian rebels appears to be a fake one, because the Saudis, the Turks, and the Qataris are taking care of that problem, as yet another Reuters article reports. This report, based on sources in the region, says that Turkey has set up a secret base in Adana, about 60 miles from the Syrian border, by which arms, supplied by Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funneled to the Syrian rebels. "It's the Turks who are militarily controlling it. Turkey is the main coordinator/facilitator," a source in Doha told Reuters. "Think of a triangle, with Turkey at the top and Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the bottom." The source added that the "nerve center" was set up at the request of Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Saud but that the Americans are taking a "hands-off approach," working through middlemen who control access to weapons and routes. The Turkish/US Incirlik air base is just outside of Adana, but it wasn't clear from the sources if the secret operation is set up on the base or in somewhere in Adana.
Other sources reported that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are supplying the arms, all Russian-made and purchased on the black market, and that Qatari special forces have been mobilized to provide training to the Free Syrian Army.