The U.S. is sending missiles to Syrian rebels as part of a “pilot program” to strengthen the opposition, American media reported.
The new initiative from Washington aims to find out whether it can supply opposition forces in Syria with weapons without them falling into the hands of Islamist extremists, American officials told USA Today on condition of anonymity.
"They will try this first and see how it goes" before expanding it, said a former official. According to reports, rebel groups have already received anti-tank missiles, known as TOWs, which are specially designed to destroy tanks and pierce reinforced bunkers.
The Hazm Movement, a powerful rebel group in Homs province and northern Syria, assured Zaman al-Wasl that the American promises were still "just promises", and denied receiving TOW anti-craft missile as many media outlets had circulated.
Hazm said they were promised the anti-crafts missiles in the near future but said there was no deadline.
The latest move from the U.S. comes as the head of the Syrian National Coalition for Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Ahmad Jarba, visits Washington to lobby for more support. Jarba will push for Washington to supply rebel forces with anti-aircraft missiles, the New York Times reported.
In a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, Jarba emphasized that his coalition was “moderate and inclusive.”
“The coalition's goal is to build a pluralistic, civil state where the majority can live together with the minority in peace,” he said.
Washington has thrown its support behind the Syrian National Coalition, granting the body official foreign mission status in the U.S. The U.S. government suspended the Syrian embassy, representing the Assad government, earlier in March. In addition, the White House has pledged an extra $27 million to helping the cause of the rebels in Syria.
As the U.S. steps up its support for the opposition, the Assad regime has scheduled presidential elections for 3 June. Assad will run for re-election against rival candidates Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar, 46, and Hassan bin Abdullah al-Nouri, 54. Elements of the Syrian opposition and Washington have already leveled criticism at the vote, branding it a “farce.”
One senior U.S. administration official denounced the Syrian election as "a parody of democracy," AFP reported. Assad’s decision to hold the elections "rings particularly hollow given that the regime is continuing to attack and massacre the very electorate that is purporting to represent," the official said.
Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer