A U.S. government source has told Reuters that U.S. President Barack Obama signed a secret order allowing the CIA and other U.S. agencies to support rebels seeking to overthrow the Assad regime.
This order, which is known as an intelligence "finding" was apparently given by Obama earlier this year. The order also provides for U.S. collaboration with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.
It is unknown when Obama signed the order, and the full extent of the assistance it allows the CIA to give Syrian rebels is unclear.
Apparently the U.S. is for now stopping short of giving the rebels lethal weapons, although some U.S. allies have done just that.
U.S. and European officials have, however, said that there have been noticeable improvements in the coherence and effectiveness of Syrian rebel groups in the past few weeks.
This move is similar to an initial "finding" authorizing U.S. support for Libyan rebels seeking to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi last year.
The U.S. government is already openly supporting the Syrian opposition. On Wednesday, the State Department said that it was providing non-military support to the Syrian opposition, and that it had allotted a total of $25 million for "non-lethal" assistance to the Free Syrian Army.
A U.S. official said that the money may be used to buy communications devices, including encrypted radios.
Apparently the State Department has also said that the U.S. has set aside $64 million in humanitarian aid for the Syrian people.
The U.S. Treasury confirmed on Wednesday that it had granted authorization for Washington's representative of the Free Syrian Army to conduct financial transactions on behalf of the rebel group. Reports first appeared last week that the Syrian Support Group had been allowed to do so.
The report of Obama's "finding" for the rebels comes as fighting continues between Syrian government troops and rebels, over the control of Aleppo, the country's economic capital. While the government and rebels continue to release conflicting reports on the extent of their control over the city, thousands of people have fled.
Reports have surfaced that the Free Syrian Army has got hold of nearly two dozen surface-to-air missiles. While a representative of the Free Syrian Army denies these reports, he did say that the rebels were preparing another "surprise" for Assad's forces.
Other senior U.S. officials are also speaking up against Assad. On Monday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta suggested that Assad “get the hell out” if he wants to protect himself and his family.
In an interview with CNN during a visit to Tunisa, Panetta said, “The United States and the international community has made very clear that this is intolerable, and have brought their diplomatic and economic pressure on Syria to stop this kind of violence, to have Assad step down and to transition to a democratic form of government.”
Referring to the Bush administration's decision to disband the country's military in Iraq in the wake of the invasion, he said, "It's very important that we don't make the same mistakes we made in Iraq. I think it’s important when Assad leaves, and he will leave, to try to preserve stability in that country.”
On Friday, a draft UN resolution calling for Assad to relinquish power in favor of a transitional government is set to be voted on by the General Assembly. The document will criticize the Security Council for failing to act, as Russia and China's stance on Syria is deemed to be one-sided.
RT interviewed Brian Becker, director of the ANSWER anti-war coalition. Becker believes that the revelation of Obama's secret order does not represent any shift in terms of U.S. strategy towards Syria.
“All that does is reveal that the so-called diplomacy, the so-called looking for a negotiated settlement is a fraud – that the diplomacy is, in fact, a form of perjury. The reality is that the U.S. government – the Obama administration with the Pentagon and the CIA – has been neck-deep coordinating military operations to overthrow a sovereign government in Syria,” he said.
Becker further noted that there would have been no civil war in Syria, if not for foreign intervention:
“The decisive factor in the equation for civil war is U.S. intervention,” he said. “And would say, frankly, the Obama administration is guilty of war crimes against the Syrian people having cynically manipulated the situation. They have the blood of the Syrian people on their hands.”