U.S. military aid to Syrian rebels: will it change the equation?

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Although the White House has decided to provide military assistance to the Syrian opposition, it is unclear just how much this aid will change the situation on the ground.

The outcome of this influx of weapons will depend on the rebels' ability to use them, according to P.J. Crowley, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs.

“So the question would be, as you increase the level of weaponry, does the Syrian opposition actually have the capability to use it effectively?” Crowley said.

Another question Crowley says has yet to be answered is what kinds of weapons the United States will give the Syrian opposition.

Ammunition, machine guns, and shot guns will almost certainly be part of the U.S. military aid, according to Dr. Murhaf Jouejati, a professor at the National Defense University. Jouejati said anti-tank rockets could also be among the weapons provided by the United States.

At the White House press briefing on Friday, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communication, would not comment on the specific types of weapons the United States will be sending to the opposition.

He said the White House intends to be responsive to the requests made by the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, General Salim Idris.

Jouejati said that while the opposition is desperately in need of ammunition and small weapons, and this aid will put the opposition in a better situation, they also need air cover. "In the absence of an air cover, Assad will continue to use air power against the rebels."

Senator John McCain has been a vocal advocate for the establishment of a no-fly zone.

“They need a no-fly zone....We can go in and establish a no-fly zone, and we can change the equation on the battlefield,” Senator McCain said.

Senator McCain said a no-fly zone is the only way to tip the balance of power away from the Assad regime.

“There's a lot at stake here. I hope the President will give a no-fly zone...As Russian arms and Iranian arms pour into the country on the side of Bashar Assad, my friends, it's not a fair fight,” Senator McCain said.

“And we know that in that kind of climate and terrain, air power is the deciding factor,” he added.

Jouejati agreed that air power is critical in the conflict. He also said the U.S. response in Syria will be a determining factor in whether the Geneva conference will take place in July as planned.

With the influx of Hezbollah fighters into Syria tipping the balance of power in Assad's favor, as well as increased support from Iran, Jouejati said Assad is unlikely to attend the conference.

U.S. military support for the rebels could be one way to equalize the players and get Assad to the negotiating table, Jouejati said.

According to the White House, the main objective is to remove Assad from power, and arming the rebels is a way to accomplish this.

“We're going to continue to support those in Syria who are working for a post-Assad future,” Rhodes said.

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