A senior White House official says President Barack Obama has yet to rule out sending U.S. military forces to quell Syria's bloody civil war.
John Brennan, the White House's top homeland security and counterterrorism official, also says Syria is "awash" in weapons despite rebel leaders' claims that Washington and its allies aren't doing enough to aid their violent struggle against Bashar al-Assad's military.
Syrian rebels are increasingly expressing frustration with the United States for providing little more than rhetorical support and repeated statements that Assad should relinquish power.
For months, numerous media reports have described significant amounts of weapons from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni regional powers falling into the possession of rebel forces.
But one senior Syrian opposition leader told U.S. News & World Report this week that's not the case. "Zero, zilch, nada," the source says when asked to describe the quantity of weapons other nations have supplied. "It's really embarrassing for those nations. We've received nothing significant from any nation."
But Brennan told a lunch-hour forum in Washington that Syria "is awash in weaponry." Anyone who tunes into an evening newscast will see that, Brennan said, noting rebel factions have benefited from former Assad military members defecting to the opposition's ranks and taking their weapons with them.
So far, the United States has resisted pleas from some opposition leaders to join the fighting or provide weapons.
The Obama administration has said for months that further militarizing the situation would only make things worse for the Syrian people. Brennan sounded that tone again on Wednesday, saying direct U.S. involvement might "increase the bloodshed."
Still, when pressed during the forum at the Council on Foreign Relations, Brennan was blunt: "I don't recall the president ever saying anything was off the table." To that end, Obama "has kept us quite busy" examining numerous options that would tip the balance once and for all toward rebel forces, Brennan said.
The White House official's opaque statement came amid reports from the region that Assad's forces have launched a new ground offensive.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Syrian military forces had regained control of the key city of Aleppo, with rebel forces taking on heavy losses.
Meantime, Brennan said Washington has "done a number of things" to assist the rebels, such as sending communications gear and other equipment. But an opposition leader told U.S. News & World Report earlier this week that Washington has yet to send such items in the numbers initially promised.
For some time, the White House has express concerns about just who makes up the opposition. State Department officials have warned al-Qaeda operatives are among those battling Assad's military, and Washington is hesitant about helping its arch nemesis gain a foothold in another nation in the Middle East.
But Brennan attempted to douse such talk with cold water, saying the latest data the Obama administration has gathered on opposition elements shows few are "al-Qaeda types." Most, he said, are "ordinary Syrians."
Brennan did acknowledge the terror syndicate has a presence in Syria, saying it aligns with their longtime modus operandi of "trying to take advantage of lawlessness" and nations undergoing political change.
Opposition leaders, however, have indicated in recent days they will not embrace al-Qaeda as a permanent player in their country, Brennan said.
John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.
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