President Barack Obama earlier this year secretly authorized the CIA and other U.S. agencies to support Syrian rebels in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad, anonymous sources have told Reuters. The particulars of the aid, however, are unclear.

Some lawmakers have criticized the president for taking too long to support the Syrian opposition. Others have suggested caution, saying too little is known about the rebel groups.

A government source also reported that the authorization entailed U.S. collaboration with Turkey and its allies. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have established a secret base 60 miles from Syria’s border — a “nerve center” in close proximity to an American air base to provide military and communication support to Assad’s opponents.

It does not appear that the U.S. has provided weapons to Syria’s rebels, Reuters reports. Such assistance would be legal only if the president approved an additional supplement known as a “memorandum of notification.”

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Reuters via The Guardian:

This and other developments point to growing support for Assad’s armed opponents – which has intensified following last month’s failure by the UN security council to agree on tougher sanctions against the Damascus government.

The White House is for now apparently stopping short of arming the rebels directly, even though some US allies are.

But US and European officials have said that there have been noticeable improvements in the coherence and effectiveness of Syrian rebel groups in the past few weeks. That represents a significant change in assessments of the rebels by western officials, who previously characterised Assad’s opponents as a disorganised, chaotic, rabble.

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