In another sign of the Obama administration’s troubled Syria policy, the White House said Wednesday the U.S. and Britain have suspended all non-lethal aid to northern Syria after rebels linked to al Qaeda seized American equipment intended for moderate opposition groups.
The move came after reports that Muslim extremists raided headquarters and warehouses belonging to the opposition’s Supreme Military Council, which is fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad in the three-year-old civil war.
“We’re obviously concerned by those reports,” said White House deputy press secretary Joshua Earnest. He said the administration is consulting with Gen. Salim Idris, head of the rebel Free Syrian Army, “to inventory the status of U.S. equipment and supplies that have been provided to” the opposition.
U.S. officials believe some American-supplied equipment is missing.
Fighters from the Islamic Front, an al Qaeda-linked coalition of six rebel groups, took control of the Free Syrian Army bases on Syria’s northwestern border with Turkey on Friday.
Non-lethal assistance includes communications equipment, body armor, night-vision goggles and medical supplies.
The developments could weaken the rebels’ overall effort against the Assad regime. Mr. Earnest said the U.S. has been trying to align itself with moderate opposition groups rather than extremists.
“That has been a challenging proposition from the very beginning, and that continues to be challenging,” he said. “A significant portion of our policy towards Syria has been dedicated to providing support to those elements of the opposition that are moderate, that are committed to respecting basic human rights, that are committed to respecting the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and even the political minorities in that country.”
The decisions were the latest blow for the fractured opposition movement, which has found itself divided into the moderate, Western-backed Free Syrian Army and Islamic extremist groups. The infighting has diminished international confidence in the rebels and undermined the battle against Mr. Assad.
A U.S. Embassy official in the Turkish capital, Ankara, said the U.S. was suspending deliveries of non-lethal military aid to the opposition in northern Syria, but humanitarian assistance such as blankets and food would not be affected.
Britain’s Foreign Office said it also “will not be making any deliveries of equipment” to the Free Syrian Army while it investigates those attacks. Britain said it intends to resume assistance as soon as conditions on the ground allow for its “safe delivery.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.