IT TURNS out that U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war is greater than the American public and even some members of Congress agitating for a greater U.S. role knew.
The New York Times reports that the CIA, working with Turkey and friendly Arab governments like Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, has greatly increased the flow of arms and other military aid through a fast-growing airlift, said to have been put in place by Gen. David Petraeus before he stepped down as CIA director.
It began a year ago January with two Qatari C-130 transports airlifting weapons to be distributed to pre-approved Syrian rebel groups. The Times said the operational tempo picked up greatly after the November elections.
The airlift has grown to include more than 160 flights by military cargo planes, picking up weapons from as far away as Croatia in an operation far beyond the organizational capabilities of the Syrian rebels, who remain disturbingly disorganized. On Sunday, the head of the Syrian National Coalition, Mouaz al-Khatib, abruptly resigned. Adding to the confusion, the Coalition refused to accept his resignation.
The airlift is under Turkish oversight, but the planning and coordination suggest a large and capable organization like the CIA working behind the scenes. U.S. officials admitted to the Times that the CIA was involved in a "consultative role." While the official U.S. position is that we are only supplying nonlethal humanitarian aid, the Times points out that the U.S. is now "more willing to help its Arab allies support the lethal side of the civil war."
By stepping up U.S. involvement, while remaining backstage, Washington hopes to see that the civil war is won by pro-Western groups, while keeping weapons out of the hands of radical Islamists and influencing the choice of a successor government.
But there are disquieting limits to U.S. influence in the post-Arab Spring Mideast. Secretary of State John Kerry apparently did not dissuade Iraq, a country into which we poured billions, from allowing Iran to overfly its territory with supplies for the beleaguered regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.