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US Congress approves arming ‘moderate Syrian rebels’
September 18, 2014, 11:48 pm

The US Senate gave congressional approval to a plan proposed by US President Barack Obama earlier in the week to provide arms and training to Syrian rebels considered “moderate” in a bid to weaken the Islamic State’s (IS or ISIL) power there and in Iraq.

But even as US media broadcast the congressional vote of 272 to 156 in favor of the president’s strategy, IS fighters were reported to have made significant gains in Syria’s northeast, using tanks captured from the Iraqi army last June to seize control of up to 20 Kurdish towns.

The vote also comes as France reported that it was set to launch air strikes against IS targets inside Iraq; however, French military sources say they will not engage IS forces beyond Iraq’s borders.

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry had been on a whirlwind tour of the Middle East to lobby allies to join Obama’s coalition-building efforts to tackle the IS threat.

For the moment, NATO member Turkey has responded to Kerry’s requests by saying that the “two countries will continue to fight terrorist organizations in the region as in the past”.

Turkish defence officials say they have boosted security along their expansive borders with Iraq and Syria. They are unlikely to provide vital air bases for US air raids against ISIL targets in northern Iraq.

The US will have to resort to air bases in the Kurdish Regional Government’s capital in Erbil, northern Iraq.

The US has in recent weeks stepped up its aerial bombardment of IS positions in northern and western Iraq, opening the way for the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga to retake towns seized by the extremist group in June and July.

The Baghdad government’s hold on Iraq began to unravel when fighters belonging to a coalition of Islamist militant groups operating under the ISIL banner seized the ethnically mixed city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June.

Army troops and security forces abandoned their posts at government installations and tore off their uniforms, at the time, and several military operations to recapture lost territory have ended in defeat for Baghdad.

With their fighters entrenched in Mosul and most of Nineveh, the former Al-Qaeda affiliates – who have maintained a brutal campaign against the forces of President Bashar Al-Assad in neighbouring Syria – now effectively control a third of Iraq and Syria.

But Obama’s strategy has not gained the kind of widespread congressional support he had been voting for.

For example, nine of 16 Iraq war veterans currently serving in Congress opposed his strategy of arming militant groups Washington considers allies in the war against IS.

Earlier in the week, Obama stressed that no US troops would return to Iraq to battle IS. This comes as Kurdish peshmerga commanders fighting IS in Iraq’s north said that the only way to defeat the Islamist extremist group was by deploying US and Nato forces there.

Meanwhile, Senator Elizabeth Warren, senior Democrat from Massachusetts, said that while she agrees IS is a threat, she does not believe Obama’s strategy adequately serves US interests.

“I remain concerned that our weapons, our funding and our support may end up in the hands of people who threaten the United States,” she said after the vote.

In June, IS forces seized millions of dollars worth of US-supplied weapons which were abandoned by US-trained Iraq army brigades.

Source: Agencies

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