Paul: Aiding Syrian rebels 'dangerous'

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Thursday said providing U.S. aid to rebels in Syria would be "complicated and dangerous" and warned intervening on behalf of rebel groups could ultimately backfire.

"It is unclear what national security interests we have in the civil war in Syria," Paul, who is weighing a run for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, wrote for CNN. "It is very clear that any attempt to aid the Syrian rebels would be complicated and dangerous, precisely because we don't know who these people are."

Other top Republicans have urged the Obama administration to more aggressively support the rebel forces in Syria, proposing the establishment of a no-fly zone or providing arms to those in opposition of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Those calls have intensified after initial intelligence reports suggested the Assad regime had used chemical weapons, crossing the so-called "red line" established by the White House.

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In his op-ed, Paul acknowledges that the "situation in Syria is certainly dire," noting the tens of thousands who have died in the country and reports of an increasing al Qaeda presence. But he also warns that getting too involved in attempts to overthrow the regime could result in costly rebuilding efforts requiring American troops and money.

"No one wants to see Syria become a bastion of extremism. But like other American interventions in the past, U.S. involvement could actually help the extremists," Paul said.

The Kentucky lawmaker said the intervention could benefit fundamentalists who would later target Christian minorities in the country that have been traditionally shielded by the Assad regime.

"Empowering Islamic extremists to achieve questionable short-term goals does not serve America's long-term security or interests," Paul said. "Nor does it serve the interests of nearly 2 million Christians in Syria who fear they could suffer the same fate as Iraqi Christians who were abused and expelled from that country as radical Islamic forces gained influence and power."

Paul's comments highlight the division within the GOP over intervention in Syria. Earlier this week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) visited rebel groups in a secret visit to the country.

“Their message was, to be frank with you: They do not understand,” McCain told CNN. “They do not understand why we won’t help them.”