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Where is it? Lawmakers complain aid hasn't made it to Syria

Syrians receive food aid in the Bustan al-Qasr district of the northern city of Aleppo on March 26, 2013.

President Obama's team was back at the Capitol today, making the case for a military strike, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution authorizing military force in Syria.

But before lawmakers make a decision on any action in Syria, some members of Congress have been asking what happened to military aid the U.S. promised to send to the Syrian opposition. Congressman say they've heard it hasn't gotten there, and at least publicly, the Obama administration won't say why.

At the beginning of the summer, President Obama was under pressure to do more about the worsening situation in Syria. There were reports the government there had used chemical weapons, and until then, the U.S. had supported the Syrian opposition in a very limited way -- providing things like medicine and vehicles, but not guns.

“Obama upped the ante and said we are going to provide lethal aide,” says Joshua Landis, who directs the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and has been opposed to further U.S. involvement.

The president promised that additional aid almost three months ago, but since then, Landis says, “Obama has not been showing up with lots of arms.”

The White House tells Marketplace it won’t give out inventories or timelines of the assistance it provides to the Syrian opposition.

“You’re not hearing about it, because it’s classified,” says Landis.

Classified or not, there’s a reason the process has moved slowly: lawmakers weren’t satisfied with the White House’s plan.

“I think the biggest problem that the administration has faced in looking at arming the rebels is, 'Who do you arm?'" says Robert Danin, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“The Syrian opposition" is not a monolith. It’s made up of more than a thousand militias, and figuring out who’s loyal to whom takes time. And it’s important to get right because arms, according to Danin, are “the coin of the realm.”

He said: “This is the way in which political support for the rebels is being expressed and this is the way in which relationships are being developed.”

Danin says this is the argument: If somebody else gives weapons to the rebels, that somebody else will enjoy their support if the Assad regime falls.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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