Syria

US may allow air defense help for militants in Syria

356414_Syrian-rebelsThe United States is considering shipping new air defense systems to insurgents in Syria who are fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad, a US official said Friday.

The Obama administration, which has been pressed by Saudi Arabia over the issue, is considering the shipment of the man-portable air-defense systems, known as “manpads,” into Syria.

The manpad shipments could actually come from Saudi Arabia, which has so far held off sending in the systems because of US opposition.

The US said it had been worried that the equipment could fall into the hands of extremists, who would possibly use them to shoot down a commercial airliner.

According to the American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, one reason behind the shift in Obama’s policy towards Syria, would be that the US has a greater understanding about the composition of insurgents in Syria, the Associated Press reported.

On Friday, Obama travelled to Saudi Arabia for a brief meeting with King Abdullah.

Analysts said the Saudis hope that the visit would result in commitments by Obama to boost the supply of sophisticated weapons to insurgents in Syria.

“We have been working for the last several months to increase our coordination with the Saudis and to more effectively distribute assistance to the opposition,” a senior administration official said Thursday. “The president’s trip comes in the context of this closer cooperation.”

Intelligence officials from US and Saudi Arabia had discussed the possibility of sending in manpads, including during a meeting in Washington earlier this year.

Syria has been gripped by deadly violence since 2011. Reports say some 140,000 people have so far been killed and millions of others displaced as a result of the political crisis.

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