Obama Seeks $500 Million to Train and Equip Syrian Rebels

WASHINGTON — President Obama requested $500 million from Congress on Thursday to train and equip what the White House is calling “appropriately vetted” members of the Syrian opposition, reflecting increased worry about the spillover of the Syrian conflict into Iraq.

The training program would be a significant step for a president who has consistently resisted providing military aid to the rebels in the conflict in Syria, and has warned of the dangers of American intervention. But military and State Department officials indicated that there were not yet any specific programs to arm and train the rebels that the money would fund, nor could administration officials specify which moderate Syrian opposition members they intended to train and support, or where they would be trained.

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Some foreign policy experts were more blunt.

“I think the president has realized that the containment of the Syria crisis has not worked,” said Andrew Tabler, an expert on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. With the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the long-running Syria crisis has “become a threat to the homeland, because this is a durable safe haven” for terrorists, Mr. Tabler said.

Mr. Obama’s request calls for the Pentagon to “train and equip vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition to help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement.”