Senate approves plan to arm Syrian rebels
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 9/18/14, 08:00 pm
UPDATE: President Barack Obama praised Congress for its swift approval of new measures against ISIS after the Senate voted for his proposal late this afternoon. The bill authorizes training and arming Syrian rebels to fight the terror group.
“The strong bipartisan support in Congress for this new training effort shows the world that Americans are united,” Obama said. “I want to thank members of Congress for the speed and seriousness with which they approached this urgent issue, in keeping with the bipartisanship that is the hallmark of American foreign policy at its best.”
OUR EARLIER REPORT (7 p.m. EDT): Both the Senate and the House have now approved President Barack Obama’s strategy to fight ISIS in Syria. The Senate today voted 73-22 for the measure, an amendment to a larger spending bill. The proposal to train and arm Syrian rebels to battle ISIS, also called ISIL, had support from the leaders of both parties, though not without reservation.
Lawmakers fear the rebel groups could later turn on the United States, much as Taliban fighters in Afghanistan did after getting American assistance to fight Russia during the Cold War. But in the face of the new terror group’s nearly unchecked domination of areas it has desired to control in the Middle East, senators conceded they had little choice but to move forward with Obama’s plan.
“This isn’t perfect legislation, but it begins to address many of our constituents’ top concerns without raising discretionary spending,” Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said.
At a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier in the day, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted the aid would only go to moderate groups of rebels in Syria, not extremists. Both the rebels in Syria and their government opponents want to see ISIS defeated. Aligning with the rebel groups gives the United States the means to fight ISIS without making an alliance with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has backing from Iran.
Iran also sees ISIS as an enemy and has given Iraq aid to fight the terrorists. But it has ruled out cooperating with America, saying that targeting ISIS only in certain regions will not be sufficient to curb the “global threat” the group poses. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has criticized U.S. arming of Syrian rebels, saying, “you cannot fight ISIS and the government in Damascus together.”
U.S. senators also expressed misgivings about whether arming the Syrian rebels would be enough to squash ISIS, also known as ISIL, a terror group Kerry called “avowed genocidists.”
Perhaps for the first time, McConnell voiced support for the president.
“While I’m concerned about the ability of the coalition to generate sufficient combat power to defeat ISIL within Syria, I do support the president’s proposal to begin the program,” he said Thursday before the vote.
The measure is the last major business on Capitol Hill before lawmakers return to their districts and states to campaign for reelection in November.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.