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PHOTOS: All-powerful Syrian rebels loaded with America's big guns

September 12, 2013 11:45 IST

Image: Fighters from the Free Syrian Army's Tahrir al Sham brigade fire at Syrian army positions during heavy fighting in Mleha suburb of Damascus
Photographs: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

The Central Investigation Agency has begun delivering weapons to Syrian rebels as part of the United States plan to strengthen the opposition armed groups against the Bashar al-Assad regime, even as the Obama administration began talks with Russia to find a diplomatic solution to the current crisis, a media report said on Thursday.

The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the United States State Department of vehicles and other gear -- a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the US role in Syria's civil war, The Washington Post reported.

All-powerful Syrian rebels loaded with America's big guns

Image: A Free Syrian Army fighter prepares a homemade rocket in Deir al-Zor
Photographs: Karam Jamal/Reuters

The arms shipments are limited to light weapons and other munitions that can be tracked, it said adding the US is also shipping new types of non-lethal gear to rebels.

That aid includes vehicles, sophisticated communications equipment and advanced combat medical kits, the daily newspaper reported. By doing so, US officials hope that this would tilt the balance in favour of the Syrian rebels who are fighting against the Assad regime for more than two years now.

All-powerful Syrian rebels loaded with America's big guns

Image: Free Syrian Army fighters smoke cigarettes as they prepare a mortar launcher near Nairab military airport, which is controlled by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Aleppo
Photographs: Hamid Khatib/Reuters

"That is something we are not going to dispute but we are not going to publicly speak to it," a US official told the CNN, according to which the weapons are not American-made but are funded and organised by the CIA.

The report of a long-awaited military aid comes one day after the US President Barack Obama told Americans in a nationally broadcast address that he was deferring taking military action in Syria in order to study a Russian initiative which would see Damascus relinquish its chemical weapons.

All-powerful Syrian rebels loaded with America's big guns

Image: A female member of the Ahbab Al-Mustafa Battalion stands on a pick-up truck mounted with an anti-aircraft weapon as she undergoes military training in Aleppo's Salaheddine district
Photographs: Muzaffar Salman/Reuters

Earlier, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the US has stepped up its assistance to the Syrian rebels.  "I say that this administration, the United States supports the Syrian opposition and has provided stepped-up support to the Syrian opposition, and will continue to do that," he said in response to a question.

"But we have been explicit that the military response contemplated had to do with Assad's use of chemical weapons. It was never envisioned as a means by which the United States would engage directly, militarily in the Syrian civil war.

All-powerful Syrian rebels loaded with America's big guns

Image: A Free Syrian Army fighter prays near a weapon in a trench in Al-Maliha, Damascus suburbs
Photographs: Raje Alsori/Reuters

Khaled Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian Opposition Coalition, welcomed the increased military assistance from the US, but noted that these are insufficient to turn the tide of the civil war between rebels and forces loyal to Assad.

"The Syrian Military Council is receiving so little support that any support we receive is a relief. But if you compare what we are getting compared to the assistance Assad receives from Iran and Russia, we have a long battle ahead of us," he told The Washington Post.

All-powerful Syrian rebels loaded with America's big guns

Image: A Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover during clashes with Syrian Army in the Salaheddine neighbourhood of central Aleppo
Photographs: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry headed to Geneva for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on resolving the Syrian crisis.

The White House said that diplomatic process is going to take some time and the Obama administration has not set any time line for it.

"What I can say is that it obviously will take some time. There are technical aspects involved in developing a plan for securing Syria’s chemical weapons and verifying their location and putting them under international control," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

"This is a process that will take a certain amount of time, but it needs to be credible. It needs to be verifiable.  We will work with our allies and partners to test whether or not that can be achieved," Carney said.

All-powerful Syrian rebels loaded with America's big guns

Image: A Free Syrian Army fighter carries his weapon as he takes a position in Aleppo's Al-Ezaa neighbourhood
Photographs: Aref Hretani/Reuters

Kerry, he said, is travelling to Geneva to meet Lavrov at the request of Obama. He is leading a high-profile US delegation comprising of officials from the White House and the Pentagon.

Earlier in the day, Kerry spoke to Lavrov over phone.  "They discussed the outlines of the schedule and their shared objective of having a substantive discussion about the mechanics of identifying, verifying and ultimately destroying Assad's chemical weapons stockpile so they can never be used again," a senior State Department official said. Carney said he expect this will take some time.  

"We also are not interested in delaying tactics. And we believe it's very important to hold Assad accountable," he said.

All-powerful Syrian rebels loaded with America's big guns

Photographs: Aref Hretani/Reuters

The White House official argued that it is the credible threat of US military force brought this diplomatic opening. "Until two days ago, Syria did not even acknowledge that it possessed chemical weapons. We have seen more cooperation and helpful activity on this matter from the Russians in the last two days than we’ve seen in the last two years.

"I think that is clearly because of the president's forceful comments about the need to hold Bashar al-Assad accountable for the use of chemical weapons against his own civilians," he insisted.

There are discussions in New York at the United Nations around framing a Security Council resolution on this issue and on the removal from Assad's control of his chemical weapon stockpile, he said.

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