U.S. Mum On Releasing Funds to Syrian Rebels

Rebel source says Assad could be gone in months; Expert warns regime soon will escalate its brutality.

By + More
Anti-Syrian regime citizens look at a Syrian military tank that was damaged during clashes between rebels and Syrian government forces in Idlib province, Syria.

U.S. officials have not commented on when—or if—they will deliver Syrian opposition leaders over $10 million in frozen funds, money rebel sources say would help their fight against Bashir al-Assad's forces.

One opposition source says Washington recently promised to turn over around $13 million to opposition leaders, but those leaders are scratching their heads about when the funds might arrive.

"We have not seen that money," the opposition source says. "It's been three months and it has not been distributed."

The source says State Department officials, when asked about the status of the frozen Assad regime assets, say the matter is lost in Washington's vast bureaucracy.

"I know when they're dragging their feet," the opposition source says. "When the State Department wants to do something, they get it done."

[Photo Gallery: Lawn Chair Balloon Fight.]

The State Department's press office did not respond to a request for comment.

Despite the opposition's growing frustration over the state of those Washington-controlled funds, Middle East experts say the rebels are getting plenty of other money from the U.S.

"The U.S. strategy is to give the opposition money and arms," says Joshua Landis, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. But the U.S. is mainly providing funds and other things, such as intelligence.

"The Saudis are doing the arming," says Landis. "So there's a division of labor here."

The opposition source says "the U.S. is involved politically, but it is not involved directly in terms of providing arms."

Reports from the ground in Syria indicate rebel forces control more territory than long thought. To that end, Landis notes fighting between Assad's forces and rebel elements is moving to urban areas, a development he says could be a game changer.

"The the fighting reaches the cities," Landis says, "the regime will be defeated."

The opposition sources says the hope is Assad will be ousted "in a few months."

But before that occurs, Landis has a warning amid questions about why Assad loyalists have reportedly been moving chemical weapons in recent days.

"Assad is convinced everyone else is an extremist and he's...a rose in the desert," Landis says. "The regime is about to ratchet up its level of violence."

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at jbennett@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.

  • Defense Firms Ignore Presidential Fight, Pour Millions Into Congressional Races
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy
  • Four Reasons Picking Condi Rice as V.P. Could Hurt Mitt Romney