House passes plan in gov’t shutdown bill to aid Syria “rebels”, fight ISIS, may cost $500 million
The U.S. House of Representatives approved President Barack Obama’s plan on Wednesday to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels, but questions remain over whether it will give them the advanced weapons they say they need to defeat Islamic State militants.
The House voted 273-to-156 to authorize the plan, a test of support for Obama’s stepped-up campaign to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State fighters who have seized a third of both Iraq and Syria, declared war on the West and seek to establish a caliphate in the heart of the Middle East.
The authorization was voted on but not the total amount of the aid as the White House claims a half-billion dollars is needed to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State.
The amendment does not include $500 million the White House says it needs to arm and train the rebels, who have been waging a three-year battle against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It was written to quickly provide the authority Obama wanted while avoiding a debate on the money.
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Defense officials have said they expect to recruit and train about 5,000 of the moderate rebel fighters.
U.S. military officials say there is support within the Pentagon for supplying the rebels with weapons beyond small arms and ammunition, including battlefield artillery, anti-tank rockets and mortars.
There was at least some sensible opposition among the crowd.
Several lawmakers who are military veterans or are still serving in the armed forces voted against the authorization. Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), a Marine who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, said the authority “does nothing” to destroy the Islamic State.
Opposition was bipartisan, specifically from Rep. Tulsi Gabbard who noted the primary objective of this strategy was more likely to target the Assad government in Syria than to destroy ISIS.
“We’ve heard this story before. We know how it ends. Look at Iraq. Look at Libya,” said Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii. “Clearly, our leaders have not learned their lesson. We must focus on taking out our enemies and investing in our own country here at home.”
In her allotted time on the House floor, Gabbard also opposed the plan because of the Al-Qaeda linked groups in and near the Free Syrian Army as well as the likelihood that weapons and aid would fall into the wrong hands.