U.S. President Barack Obama moved to ratchet up U.S. efforts to strengthen more moderate Syrian rebels on Thursday.
According to AP, Obama's request to Congress for $500 million in training and arms to the opposition in effect opens a second front in the fight against militants spilling over Syria's border and threatening to overwhelm neighboring Iraq.
The train-and-equip mission would be overseen by the Pentagon and would mark a significant expansion of previous covert efforts to arm the rebels who are fighting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Obama administration officials claim the U.S. has grown increasingly confident in recent months about its ability to distinguish the moderate rebels from the more extremist elements that include the al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, which has stormed into Iraq and captured much of the northern part of the country.
White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the military assistance "marks another step toward helping the Syrian people defend themselves against regime attacks, push back against the growing number of extremists like ISIL who find safe haven in the chaos, and take their future into their own hands by enhancing security and stability at local levels."
The Syria program is part of a broader $65.8 billion overseas operations request that the administration sent to Capitol Hill on Thursday. 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 threatening moves in Ukraine.
Earlier this month U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice acknowledged that the Pentagon was also delivering "lethal" support.
About $287 million in mainly non-lethal support has been cleared for the rebels since March 2011, and the CIA has participated in a covert military training program in neighboring Jordan for the rebels.
Rebels sack military command
Meanwhile, Syria's rebels sacked the military command of the Free Syrian Army late on Thursday over corruption allegations.
According to AFP, a statement by the opposition said its chief Ahmad Tohme "decided to disband the Supreme Military Council and refer its members to the government's financial and administration committee for investigation."
The decision came amid widespread reports of corruption within the ranks of the FSA, which is backed by Western and Arab governments in its battle to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The government in exile said it was also sacking FSA chief of staff Brigadier General Abdelilah al-Bashir.
It called on "revolutionary forces on the ground" to set up within a month a new defense council and to fully restructure the rebel army's command.
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