President Barack Obama, under pressure from some lawmakers for greater U.S. backing for Syria's opposition, asked Congress Thursday for $500 million to train and arm vetted members of the Syrian opposition, as the United States considers options to stem an ongoing civil war that has also seeped into neighboring Iraq.
The military training program would deepen the Obama administration's involvement in the more than three-year conflict between rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. If approved by Congress, the program would supplement a covert train-and-assistance program run by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Obama has been under strong pressure from some lawmakers, such as Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, to increase assistance to the rebels in Syria's conflict. Some lawmakers have accused Obama of being passive and indecisive for months, allowing Assad to overcome threats to his government.
The request Thursday followed through on a promise Obama made in late May in a foreign policy speech that he would "ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators."
The White House said the money would help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement.
"This funding request would build on the administration’s longstanding efforts to empower the moderate Syrian opposition, both civilian and armed, and will enable the Department of Defense to increase our support to vetted elements of the armed opposition," the White House said.
The Syria program is part of a broader $65.8 billion overseas operations request that the administration sent to Capitol Hill. The package includes $1 billion to help stabilize nations bordering Syria that are struggling with the effects of the civil war. It also formalizes a request for a previously announced $1 billion to strengthen the U.S. military presence in Central and Eastern Europe amid Russia's moves in Ukraine.