U.S. one step closer to arming, training Syrian rebels against ISIS
By Holly Yan, CNN
While ISIS militants keep trying to spread their radical Islamist rule in Syria and Iraq, a slew of U.S. officials are scrambling to find the best way to stop them.
After the House approved President Barack Obama’s plan to arm and train Syrian rebels in the fight against ISIS Wednesday, the Senate could vote as early as Thursday on the same measure.
And even though some senators expect the plan to pass in the Democrat-controlled chamber, Obama could see tough challenges from his own party.
“I think it’s very hard to sort out the moderate rebels from the extremists and I have a real worry that once we send these rebels back into the battle space there is very little we can do to prevent them from locking arms with al Qaeda or elements of ISIS,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said.
But Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the U.S. intelligence community will play an important role in vetting the rebels.
The Missouri senator also said training could take up to a year before arms are provided.
“All of those people criticizing this choice, I have yet to hear their better idea,” McCaskill said.
ISIS captures more territory
While U.S. leaders mull what to do about ISIS, the terror group captured 16 villages in northern Syria in the past 24 hours, the opposition group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday.
The villages, near the Syria-Turkey border, are predominantly Kurdish, the SOHR said. The group said ISIS carried out their attacks using artillery and tanks.
Three years of waiting
If the United States ends up arming Syrian rebels, it would come after three years of clamoring by opposition forces.
Syrian rebels started asking the West for weapons in 2011, after peaceful political protests led to the regime’s deadly crackdown.
That spiraled into an armed uprising and a civil war that has killed more than 190,000 Syrians over the past three years.
The United States has provided $2.9 billion in humanitarian aid to Syria, but has stopped short of giving Syrian rebels weapons.
A former Syrian rebel leader said the opposition Free Syrian Army is now more concerned about ISIS than the regime.
“At this time, it is more dangerous than the regime itself,” Gen. Salim Idriss, a former FSA chief of staff, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
No boots on the ground in Iraq
Obama reiterated Wednesday that the United States will not send combat troops back to Iraq.
“As your commander in chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” Obama told troops Wednesday at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.
“The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and and will not have a combat mission. They will support Iraqi forces on the ground as they fight for their own country against these terrorists.”
On Thursday, Secretary of State Kerry will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will testify before the House Armed Services Committee.
But just like in Syria, the crisis in Iraq continues to unfold.
Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry said Thursday that 1,095 Iraqi soldiers still are missing after an ISIS attack on a military base formerly known as Camp Speicher in June.
ISIS says it killed 1,700 Iraqi troops in the attack. The Iraqi government hasn’t released a number of those killed; Human Rights Watch says ISIS executed hundreds of soldiers.
CNN’s Deirdre Walsh, Ted Barrett, Jessica Moskowitz, Jim Acosta, Kevin Liptak and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.