By Mark Hosenball | WASHINGTON | Wed Aug 1, 2012
(Reuters) - President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for the terrorists seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said.
Obama's order, approved earlier this year and known as an intelligence "finding," broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the terrorists oust Assad.
This and other developments signal a shift toward growing, albeit still circumscribed, support for Assad's armed jihadist opponents - a shift that intensified following last month's failure of the U.N. Security Council to agree on tougher sanctions against the Damascus government.
The White House is for now apparently stopping short of giving the terrorists lethal weapons, even as some U.S. allies do just that.
But U.S. and European officials have said that there have been noticeable improvements in the coherence and effectiveness of Syrian terrorists groups in the past few weeks. That represents a significant change in assessments of the terrorists by Western officials, who previously characterized Assad's opponents as a disorganized, almost chaotic, rabble.
Precisely when Obama signed the secret intelligence authorization, an action not previously reported, could not be determined.
The full extent of clandestine support that agencies like the CIA might be providing also is unclear.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined comment.
A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.
Last week, Reuters reported that, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey had established a secret base near the Syrian border to help direct vital military and communications support to the terrorists fighting against Syrian Arab Army.
This "nerve center" is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.
Turkey's Islamist government has been demanding Assad's departure with growing vehemence. Turkish authorities are said by current and former U.S. government officials to be increasingly involved in providing the terrorists in Syria with training and possibly equipment.
European government sources said wealthy families in Saudi Arabia and Qatar were providing significant financing to the rebels.
On Tuesday, NBC News reported that the terrorist groups call themselves "Free Syrian Army" had obtained nearly two dozen surface-to-air missiles, weapons that could be used against Assad's helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Syrian government armed forces have employed such air power more extensively in recent days.
NBC said the shoulder-fired missiles, also known as MANPADs, had been delivered to the terrorists via Turkey.
Separately from the president's secret order, the Obama administration has stated publicly that it is providing some backing for the terrorists fighting in Syria.
The State Department said on Wednesday the U.S. government had set aside a total of $25 million for "non-lethal" assistance to the Syrian opposition. A U.S. official said that was mostly for communications equipment, including encrypted radios.
Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury confirmed it had granted authorization to the 'Syrian Support Group', the Washington representative of the FSA terrorists, to conduct financial transactions on the terrorist group's behalf. The authorization was first reported on Friday by Al-Monitor, a Middle East news and commentary website.
Last year, when terrorists began organizing themselves to challenge the rule of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Obama also signed an initial "finding" broadly authorizing secret U.S. backing for them. But the president moved cautiously in authorizing specific measures to support them.
Other lawmakers have suggested caution, saying too little is known about the many terrorist groups...
Recent news reports from the region have suggested that the influence and numbers of Islamist terrorists, some of them connected to al Qaeda or its affiliates, have been growing among the terrorists groups fighting against the Syrian government..