The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the US role in Syria's civil war, The Washington Post reported.

The arms shipments are limited to light weapons and other munitions that can be tracked, it said adding the US is also shipping new types of nonlethal gear to rebels. That aid includes vehicles, sophisticated communications equipment and advanced combat medical kits, the report said.

By doing so, US officials hope that this would tilt the balance in favour of the Syrian rebels who are fighting against the Assad regime for more than two years now. "That is something we are not going to dispute but we are not going to publicly speak to it," a US official said. The weapons are not American-made but are funded and organized by the CIA.

The report of a long-awaited military aid comes one day after the US President Barack Obama told Americans in a nationally broadcast address that he was deferring taking military action in Syria in order to study a Russian initiative which would see Damascus relinquish its chemical weapons.

Earlier, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the US has stepped up its assistance to the Syrian rebels. "I say that this administration, the United States supports the Syrian opposition and has provided stepped-up support to the Syrian opposition, and will continue to do that," he said in response to a question.

"But we have been explicit that the military response contemplated had to do with Assad's use of chemical weapons. It was never envisioned as a means by which the United States would engage directly, militarily in the Syrian civil war,” he said.

Syrian Opposition Coalition welcomes military assistance

Khaled Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian Opposition Coalition, welcomed the increased military assistance from the US, but noted that these are insufficient to turn the tide of the civil war between rebels and forces loyal to Assad.

"The Syrian Military Council is receiving so little support that any support we receive is a relief. But if you compare what we are getting compared to the assistance Assad receives from Iran and Russia, we have a long battle ahead of us," he told The Washington Post.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry headed to Geneva for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on resolving the Syrian crisis. The White House said that diplomatic process is going to take some time and the Obama Administration has not set any time line for it.

"What I can say is that it obviously will take some time. There are technical aspects involved in developing a plan for securing Syria’s chemical weapons and verifying their location and putting them under international control," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

"This is a process that will take a certain amount of time, but it needs to be credible. It needs to be verifiable.  We will work with our allies and partners to test whether or not that can be achieved," Carney said.

Kerry, he said, is travelling to Geneva to meet Lavrov at the request of Obama. He is leading a high-profile US delegation comprising of officials from the White House and the Pentagon.

Earlier in the day, Kerry spoke to Lavrov over phone. "They discussed the outlines of the schedule and their shared objective of having a substantive discussion about the mechanics of identifying, verifying and ultimately destroying Assad's chemical weapons stockpile so they can never be used again," a Senior State Department official said.

Carney said he expect this will take some time. "We also are not interested in delaying tactics. And we believe it's very important to hold Assad accountable," he said. The White House official argued that it is the credible threat of US military force brought this diplomatic opening.

"Until two days ago, Syria did not even acknowledge that it possessed chemical weapons. We have seen more cooperation and helpful activity on this matter from the Russians in the last two days than we’ve seen in the last two years.

"I think that is clearly because of the President's forceful comments about the need to hold Bashar al-Assad accountable for the use of chemical weapons against his own civilians," he insisted.

There are discussions in New York at the United Nations around framing a Security Council resolution on this issue and on the removal from Assad's control of his chemical weapon stockpile, he said.


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