The United States plans to start supplying arms directly to Syrian rebels within a month, American officials said yesterday, as it emerged that the CIA has begun shipping weapons to a secret network of warehouses in neighbouring Jordan.
Leaked CIA plans disclose that Washington will dispatch arms from Jordan to specially vetted groups in the Free Syrian Army in co-ordination with European and Arab allies.
Under the "parallel push", supporters of Syrian rebels will provide training and arms deliveries to the rebel forces deemed moderate and separate from al-Qaeda-linked forces.
The arms supplies are intended to be in the hands of the rebels before an offensive against Bashar al-Assad's regime is launched in early August, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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US deliveries so far include light weapons and anti-tank missiles, but talks are under way with the French to send more supplies from Europe.
Saudi Arabia has promised to dispatch up to 20 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, capable of taking down regime fighter jets.
A CIA vetting procedure for groups that are given weapons is the linchpin of the US approach. Officials said it was vital to bolster moderate groups so they can blunt the appeal of the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-linked movement that has grown to dominate the battle against the Damascus regime.
"Numbers are an issue," a counter-terrorism official told the Wall Street Journal. "Al-Nusra has added thousands of fighters in the past year. We are going to have to outpace that."
The development comes after Washington determined that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons against its opponents. United Nations inspectors who have been blocked from entering Syria moved into Turkey yesterday to gather soil samples or scientific evidence needed to prove chemical use.