Less than a week after former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan brokered a measured ceasefire between opposition forces and the Assad regime in Syria, talks are underway to begin supplying rebel forces with communication equipment and further financial assistance. Proponents hope that the new supplies will help rebel forces coordinate movement, leading to less casualties, and that monetary aid will help rebel leaders provide salaries to fights, and may even lead some regime soldiers to defect to the Free Syrian Army rebel group.
Secretary of State Clinton announced on Sunday that the United States was offering a further increase in funding to international organizations for humanitarian assistance, bringing the U.S. total to $25 million, while also detailing that for the first time the United States will be providing satellite communication equipment to help Syrian citizens "evade attacks by the regime" and stay in contact with the outside world. Molham al Drobi, a member of the Syrian National Council, reports that $176 million in humanitarian assistance, and $100 million in salaries over three months have already been pledged to the rebel troops, and are successfully reaching their recipients through undisclosed mechanisms. The main supporters of Syrian rebels in the region - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE - have expressed their concerns that international stalling only strengthens the Assad regime. Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, echoed these concerns, calling on the U.N. Security Council to act, as there is "no option left except to support the legitimate right of the Syrian people to defend themselves."
With an estimated 9,000 casualties already, critics have questioned whether bolstering rebel troops without directly arming them in the face of increasingly brutal crackdowns by the regime will only lead to more violence. While a peaceful settlement is of course the optimal outcome, fruitful dialogue with the Assad regime continues to be fleeting, and the aforementioned ceasefire appears to have stemmed the flow of blood only temporarily. Widespread reports of continued shelling in Homs occurring just yesterday demonstrate that the Assad regime has no intention of ending this brutal crackdown. With China and Russia blocking U.N. measures for direct military intervention, the international communities' hands seem tied.
The status quo is entirely unsustainable though. Without direct military assistance, rebel forces have no hope of combatting the better equipped Syrian Army. Furthermore, unlike Egypt, there is little possibility of driving a wedge between the regime and the army, as most military leadership is of the same ethnic background as Assad himself. While full scale, ground combat assistance, in the vain of Libya, may be the end game, in the intermediate, other options exist. There is evidence that Saudi Arabia and Turkey, once an ally of the Assad regime, are clandestinely supplying rebel fighters with weaponry and aid. If U.S. leadership is weary of directly arming rebels groups (rightfully so, as there still remains little transparency as to who would be receiving supplied arms), operating secretly through a third party like Turkey or Saudi Arabia might be a second best option.
Of course supplying arms to rebel fighters is not a guarantor of victory. Even though the Syrian Army's weaponry is dated by most modern standards, they remain well trained and well equipped. That being said, the cats is already out of the bag on this one. Directly supplying arms to Syrian rebels, and assisting in their struggle will only exacerbate fighting, but the Assad regime has shown no sign that they have any intention of coming to the table peacefully. While Kofi Annan's efforts are commendable, the fact of the matter is that until diplomacy begins to deliver any results, the unfortunate reality is that the U.S. and the international community are sitting by idly as a humanitarian crisis unfolds under their noses. Arming rebel groups, as unsavory as that sounds, may be the best option in seeing serious progress unfold in this conflict.