Smith: WH needs to sell plan to aid Syrian rebels

 

Lawmakers hammered defense officials Wednesday for more details on a $1 billion White House plan to train and equip opposition to the Assad regime in Syria and those fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The plan, which would provide $500 million to assist vetted rebels and another $500 million for Syria's neighbors, has gained support from key members of Congress. However, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing, Pentagon officials drew exasperation from members over the lack of specifics they could provide.

"[It's] a big damned deal. ... It's something we ought to do," said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Calif.), the panel's ranking member. "Sell it, and if you don't, there ain't no way we're going to pass it!"

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Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Sandy Winnefeld told lawmakers that it would entail training Syrian rebels outside of the country, pressuring President Bashar Assad to come to the negotiating table, and fighting ISIS.

However, Winnefeld said many of the details of the plan are sensitive and still being put together.

"We need to do better than 'it's classified so we can't talk about it!'" Smith said.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said the White House's $5 billion request for a counterterrorism fund, which includes support for the Syrian rebels, needed gaps filled in.

"These are very large numbers and the detail is lacking," he said.

Meanwhile, leaders of moderate opposition forces in Syria sent a letter to leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, urging support for the plan.

The panel is in the process of finalizing its defense spending bill, which, if passed, would authorize and appropriate the White House's request.

"Neither the United States nor the Syrian people can afford a victory by ISIS, al Qaeda, Assad, or other extremists," reads the letter by the Syrian National Coalition.

"The price of abandonment includes conceding a safe haven for the world’s most dangerous extremist terrorist groups — including ISIS, al Qaeda, and Hizbollah — from which they can launch attacks against both the Syrian people and the West," it said.