NBC has confirmed Wednesday’s rumors that President Obama has signed an “executive finding” from the intelligence community that allows American advisors to work with a team of allies inside Turkey to “offer assistance” to the Syrian rebels.
This is not a commitment of military personnel. It involves civilian intelligence personnel who are wholly within the purview of the President. There is no need to get the approval of Congress or meet the requirements of the War Powers Act. This is equivalent to all those CIA missions our government has sent into sensitive situations for decades.
Okay, let’s get honest. This is equivalent to all those CIA teams we used to send into certain countries to co-ordinate coups. There is a Congressional level of oversight, but not on the public level that we have seen with the witch-hunt generated by Fast and Furious.
Whatever American team is sent to work in Turkey, it will be advisory and work with an undisclosed group of international allies. The disclosure of this team’s existence answers the question of where the anti-aircraft weapons delivered to the rebels originated. They are probably Turkish. To date, the only weapons available to the rebels have been the Russian-made guns they took with them when they defected, Russian made guns, shoulder-fire rocket launchers and grenade launchers taken from regime troops and the explosives they are cooking up on their own. Western journalists have penetrated into Syria and are providing greater video reporting of the conditions among the rebels than were available from the print journalists who had embedded with the rebels a few weeks ago. Like NBC’s Richard Engel, these journalists are showing how the rebels have been getting their videos out and the sophistication of their communications networks. They are definitely putting the lie to the right wing depiction of these rebels as 10th century camel jockeys or al Qaida operatives. These are local men with ties to the communities they are defending, and very comfortable with 21st century technology.
Engel was in a town outside Aleppo when a rebel squadron decided to try to prevent a regime convoy reaching Aleppo to reinforce the regime troops there. He was able to chronicle the regime’s response to an attack on the convoy, the randomness of their shelling of the town, the dead civilians.
The first thought that comes to mind in any assistance we are giving the rebels is that we can access satellite imagery to pinpoint regime troop movement, but that’s just a random thought from a civilian thousands of miles away.