WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is saying for the first time that the Defense Department backed the idea of providing arms to opposition groups in Syria.
Until Thursday, the Pentagon had only said publicly that U.S. policy is to give only humanitarian assistance to rebels battling President Bashar Assad's regime. Providing arms has been the subject of internal administration debate.
The Obama administration has said it prefers a political, rather than military, solution in Syria.
The administration has expressed concern about the difficulty of determining which opposition groups are tied to al-Qaida-insurgents who might get U.S.-supplied arms. But some have urged U.S. to supply weapons to opposition groups in order to hasten Assad's departure and prevent rebels from taking weapons from terror-linked groups.