By Carlo Muñoz - 09/06/12 09:51 PM EDT
U.S. intelligence agents heading to the region will help bolster the political and military organization of rebel forces waging a civil war against Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to reports by The Associated Press.
Intelligence agents will also assess the strength of the rebels' ranks and what specific factions make up that fighting force, focusing in particular on whether Islamic extremist elements like al Qaeda have infiltrated their ranks.
This assessment will help the Obama administration decide whether to continue its policy of non-lethal support to the anti-Assad forces, or to escalate American involvement in the conflict.
The State Department and Pentagon have been funneling communications equipment and other non-lethal equipment, such as night-vision goggles, to Syrian rebel forces.
The United States has also reportedly begun to help coordinate deliveries of weapons paid for by several Gulf states to the anti-Assad forces in recent weeks, according to recent news reports.
However, DOD and the White House have declined to supply Syrian fighters with weapons directly, amid concerns that U.S. heavy weapons could later be turned against American or allied troops by al Qaeda fighters.
While rebel forces have managed to carve out strongholds in the northern part of the country, Assad's forces have managed to push their way into the region.
Using heavy artillery and superior air power, Assad's forces have been bludgeoning rebel positions in and around the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.
In August, rebel commanders battling Assad's forces in northern Syria said they would consider aligning themselves with the throngs of al Qaeda fighters streaming into the country if the United States and its allies do not increase their support.
"We don't want al-Qaeda here, but if nobody else helps us, we will make an alliance with them," Abu Ammar, a rebel commander stationed in Aleppo, told Reuters at the time.
That same month, President Obama signed a presidential finding, authorizing the CIA and other government agencies to provide support for anti-government rebels looking to overthrow Assad.
The finding paves the way for U.S. participation in a covert command center along the Turkey-Syria border to facilitate communications and intelligence support to Syrian rebels.
The command center would be under the control of Ankara and its allies and located 60 miles from the Syrian border, near the U.S. Air Force base in Incirlik, a government source told Reuters at the time.
CIA operatives and their counterparts in MI6, the United Kingdom's foreign-intelligence wing, have been gathering reams of raw intelligence gleaned from American and British satellites and other electronic intelligence assets in the skies above Syria since June.