WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that the U.S. will continue to support the moderate opposition in Syria, but non-lethal aid will be suspended until the U.S. can get a clear assessment on the status of warehouses of military equipment that may have been seized by extremist Islamic militants.
The U.S. and Britain suspended the aid after opposition fighters from conservative Islamic rebel brigades seized warehouses containing U.S. military gear that was intended for the main Western-backed moderate rebel group.
The developments underscored the weakness of the mainstream rebel faction, known as the Free Syrian Army, which Washington and its European allies have tried — at times reluctantly — to mold into an effective partner inside Syria.
“What has occurred here in the last couple of days is a clear reflection on how complicated and dangerous this situation is and how unpredictable it is,” Hagel said during a Pentagon news conference. “We continue to support General Idris and the moderate opposition. … But this is a problem … and we’re going to have to work through it and manage through it with General Idris and the moderate opposition.”
FSA’s Supreme Military Council is led by Gen. Salim Idris, a secular-minded, Western-backed moderate.
Hagel said the effort to remove and destroy Syria’s cache of chemical weapons is on track.