The U.S. House intelligence committee has joined its Senate counterpart in granting the Obama administration initial approval to arm opposition forces in Syria's civil war, clearing the way for the planned transfers announced in June, Reuters reported on Monday.
Obama officials last month justified the decision to arm opponents of President Bashar Assad by asserting that his regime had employed chemical arms in the country's 2-year-old civil war, crossing a U.S. "red line" established in 2012. Damascus has denied employing chemical weapons in the conflict, now in its third year.
U.S. weapons are expected to begin arriving next month, a high-level member of the Syrian resistance told the New York Times by e-mail on Monday.
Separately, the House Rules Committee decided on Monday to permit a floor vote to bar financial backing for any use of force in Syria in breach of congressional approval standards from 1973, Politico reported. The proposal would amend a draft defense appropriations bill under consideration in the lower chamber.
In a letter to lawmakers last week, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff hinted that any direct use of force in Syria would likely be risky, costly and protracted, the New York Times reported. Potential actions include bolstering support for the rebels, conducting standoff strikes on government assets, restricting Assad's air operations and creating secure "buffer zones," Gen. Martin Dempsey wrote.
Locking down Syrian chemical arms would require "a no-fly zone, as well as air and missile strikes involving hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines, and other enablers," Dempsey said. "Thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces would be needed to assault and secure critical sites. Costs could also average well over $1 billion per month."
"The impact would be the control of some, but not all chemical weapons," he wrote. "Our inability to fully control Syria’s storage and delivery systems could allow extremists to gain better access."
"Should the regime's institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control," Dempsey added. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on Friday replied with several follow-up questions.
The White House last week stated it does not expect Assad to again control "all" of the country, an apparent acknowledgement of the government's strengthening military hand, the Times reported.