Congress Votes to Arm Syrian Rebels Against ISIS

September 18, 2014

Fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. The group has since swept into Iraq, taking the cities of Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul. (AP Photo/militant website, File) (AP Photo/militant website, File)

Congress has voted to authorize arming and training Syrian rebels to do battle with the radical group known as ISIS. But as FRONTLINE reported from Syria earlier this year, some rebels say they were already secretly backed by the U.S. government.

The Senate voted 78-22 on Thursday to authorize the training and arming of Syrian rebels to confront the group after President Obama asked for support. The House of Representatives voted 273-to-156 in favor of the measure Wednesday.

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In the May documentary Syria: Arming the Rebels, rebels described a clandestine journey from the Syrian battlefield to meet with American handlers in Turkey. They said they then traveled to Qatar for training in sophisticated weapons and fighting techniques.

Watch FRONTLINE’s “How to Train a Rebel Army (Secretly) in Seven Steps:
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Opponents in both parties have expressed fears that formally authorizing U.S. backing of the rebels could eventually lead to U.S. ground troops fighting ISIS, which has killed untold numbers of civilians in both Iraq and Syria and publicly beheaded two American journalists and a British aide worker as it tries to establish a new state in Iraq and Syria.

Obama pledged to American troops Wednesday that he would not commit them to another ground war.

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