(CNN) – U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel introduced legislation Monday giving President Barack Obama the authority to provide rebels in Syria "lethal equipment," which the United States has thus far avoided doing over the course of the two-year conflict.
The New York Democrat previewed the legislation Sunday, saying in an interview it was the time for more substantial American investment in the rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"I think the Free Syrian Army needs help," Engel said on ABC. "We know who they are. And I think it's time that we make that move."
In a statement Monday, Engel wrote the United States is "long past due to arm friendly rebels and turn the tide to allow for a more hopeful Syrian future."
"Ridding Syria of Assad will provide a strategic setback to Iran, which uses Syria as a pass-through to prop up their terrorist proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon," he wrote.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, however, said distinguishing between the opposition forces would be difficult, as the situation has become increasingly unclear.
"The challenge with the opposition in Syria is that it is – it’s multilayered, multifaceted, and it’s kind of ubiquitous and it’s – meaning, spread throughout the country, pockets in some cases, intermingled in others," Dempsey said Monday at an event in Washington.
"I don’t think, at this point, I can – I can see a military option that would create an understandable outcome," he added.
Engel's bill would authorize Obama to provide approved members of the Syrian opposition with "restricted lethal military assistance," as well as develop a program to destroy chemical and biological weapons in Syria.
Last week, Syrian rebels claimed to CNN that hundreds of their fighters were being given sophisticated-weapons training organized and authorized by the United States at a camp in Jordan. A senior rebel spokesman said 300 fighters had already completed the course and crossed the border into Syria on Thursday.
The training was said to include the use of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry, the latter aimed at the particularly vital part of the regime's military might, which has thus far kept rebels often in check.
Asked about the rebel spokesman's claims, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the United States doesn't "provide lethal aid to the Syrian opposition."
Secretary of State John Kerry added Monday that the "United States does not stand in the way of other countries that have made a decision to provide arms" to the Syrian rebels.
Since Syrian rebels first began trying to oust Assad in March 2011, the United States has waded into the conflict incrementally. In December 2012, Obama said the U.S. government would recognize the leading Syrian opposition coalition, though stopped short of saying the U.S. would join other nations like Qatar in providing the rebels with weapons.
The U.S. has provided millions of dollars in funding and humanitarian aid to the Syrian opposition, and has pressed them to establish a leadership structure.
If we convincingly know that the rebels we're arming are the good guys then I see no problem arming them. That being said, every opposition fighter in Syria is NOT part of the Free Syrian Army. There needs to be ways of tracking these weapons. Also, there needs to be a database, with names, addresses, etc of members of the Free Syrian Army. As far as the chemical weapons go, I think that is a mission requiring Intelligence assets to put boots on the ground.
Are you kidding me? We're broke! To heck with the Syrian rebels. I don't care if they're fighting for the next two decades. And do you remember two of the groups we helped with internal conflict not so long ago? Saddam's regime and the Taliban. That worked out well.........not!
Our technology should not be in the hands of any foreign country.
so we are people to promote freedom with military weapons...interesting... cause that's what they want to take from us here in the US.
I wonder if Rep. Engel is willing to forego his paycheck to help pay to arm yet another group of rebels or is he just willing to give away other people's money.
arm rebels to provide hopeful future, disarm US citz to promote our ??? future?
Just more of the party of waste throwing our hard earned tax payer money at something that will amount to nothing.
My only question is this. We is the *United States* providing them? Specifically, why are US taxpayers paying for them? Is there another country that is going to compensate us for it? It would be good if there were, that way it lends some appearance that we were not the main perpetrators. Blame the party who paid for the weapons to be sent there, not us.
Humanitarian aid is one thing. Military aid is another.
In Egypt, there was no doubt the revolution was led by pro democracy advocates.
Look how that ended up – The Muslim Brotherhood is in charge, and at one point declaring martial law.
Look at the Syrians anxious to challenge Israel in the Golan heights, with "religious" justification.
The result will be less favorable to "democracy" than Egypt, and so far that has not been a smashing success. The Islamists and Shariah law will be the end result, and we are going to end up wondering how we could ever have been a part of it.
So the rebels we arm today could be the Al Qaeda of tomorrow. Look we're broke and we can't keep sending money overseas, while people in this country barely have enough to make ends meet.
It seems America has her priorities messed up. We don't want to give assistance to an American that lost his or her job, but we have money to arm rebels. We don't care what happens to the poor and minorities, yet dogs are now treated better than humans.
Dutch/Bad Newz, VA
There needs to be ways of tracking these weapons. Also, there needs to be a database, with names, addresses, etc of members of the Free Syrian Army.
Should be no problem... just do it the same way Fast & Furious was done.
This is insanity. As the Islamists spread their revolution across the Middle East and North Africa, the United States should be seeking to mitigate and control this highly combustible growth, not adding fuel to the fire with anti air weaponry etc. And don't feed me garbage about the FSA not being radical or wishing death on the West. These are fighters that are simply preoccupied with Assad. I would take a predictable secular regime over a nebulous and volatile theocracy any day of the week.
I don't know why Engel introduced this bill. He should have let the Republicans do it.
What a wonderful democrat, of course from new york. Lets restrict gun rights in the US and then arm peopke in syria because we can. And how much taxpayer money will be used for it too. They cried about the sequester, but we still have money to arm rebels halfway around the world that are more than likely al queada.
Stay out of it!!!
I also have to agree with Rick McDaniel from another topic. He basically said America needs to mind it's own business, we can't just go to other countries and demand they live like we want them to.
Yes Rick I know, neither of us ever thought we would agree on ANYTHING.
Ray E. (Georgia)
Uh, Oh Well,
Wasn't it the Labor Dept that tried or stopped Boeing from opening a factory in South Carolina ?? Something that should be beyond the mission and scope of the labor dept.
It's none of the Labor Department's business until the labor union files a complaing against the company for breach of contract. Boeing had just signed a multi-year contract with the union, one where the union gave up things to ensure the future longevity of the members' jobs. Boeing's move reneged on the contract because it killed *all* of the unoin jobs.
Just remember republican posters here it was Rubio and republicans McCain included way before Engel that wanted weapons for Syria wasn't it!!And remember the weapons we sold or gave to the Afghan fighters in the "80s fighting the Russians came back to haunt our own troops in Afghanistan just different ammo now being made by Russia or Chinese which ever one is selling on the black market now!!So remember who you're selling weapons too hypocrites because your friends today maybe your enemies of tommorrow,just keep your friends close and your enemies closer!!And quit being so hypocritical republicans the warmongers of our modern era,its fact isn't it!!