COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France: President Barack Obama’s top foreign policy adviser Susan Rice Friday said Washington was providing “lethal and non-lethal” support to select members of the Syrian opposition, offering more detail than usual on U.S. assistance.
Top Obama administration officials typically decline to say exactly what equipment, arms or ammunition the United States is providing to moderate Syrian opposition forces.
But President Barack Obama said in a major foreign policy speech last week that the United States would “ramp up” support for rebels fighting President Bashar Assad.
Rice said in an interview with CNN while she was traveling with Obama to D-Day 70th anniversary celebrations in Normandy that she was heartbroken about the carnage in Syria’s civil war, believed to have killed more than 160,000 people.
“That’s why the U.S. has ramped up its support for the moderate vetted opposition, providing lethal and non-lethal support where we can to support both the civilian opposition and the military opposition.”
Officials normally publicly refuse to comment on exactly what they are doing to train opposition groups.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to say whether Rice was announcing a new U.S. policy by apparently being more open on U.S. assistance.
“We’re not in a position to detail all of our assistance, but as we’ve made clear, we provide both military and non-military assistance to the opposition,” Hayden said.
Obama met the head of the opposition National Coalition, Ahmad Jarba, in Washington last month. Officially, U.S. support for rebel fighters in Syria has been limited to non-lethal aid amounting to $287 million, though the CIA reportedly participates in a secret program to train moderate rebels in Jordan.
Opposition leaders have tried to convince Washington to drop its ban on providing anti-aircraft missiles to rebels, fearing they could fall into the hands of Islamist extremists.
On the ground, fierce fighting raged around the southern Damascus suburb of Mliha, as regime forces targeted rebel positions with five surface-to-surface missiles and seven airstrikes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-regime group based in Britain.
Also, hundreds of Syrians have been released from prison after an amnesty granted by Assad to mark his re-election, the Observatory said.
Some 320 prisoners were released from Aleppo Central prison Wednesday as Assad’s election victory was announced, while 480 other prisoners, including 80 women, would be freed from Adra prison near Damascus, it said.
Dozens were freed Friday from Adra, while the rest slated to walk free were transferred to a municipal building pending their release.
The Observatory said all the Adra prisoners to be released had been held on charges of “terrorism,” a term the government uses for those involved in the uprising.
Some 18,000 people are being held in Syria’s prisons, many of them feared dead.