President Barack Obama has authorized the United States government to provide chemical weapons-related assistance to groups in Syria, including training for chemical weapons attacks and protective equipment for "select vetted members" of Syrian opposition forces.
In an order issued today, the White House said the president is waiving provisions of the Arms Control Export Act (ACEA) that restrict the U.S. from providing munitions, credits and licenses to countries supporting acts of terrorism.
According to the ACEA, those prohibitions can be waived "if the president determines that the transaction is essential to the national security interests of the United States."
The U.S. has previously provided the opposition with other types of non-lethal aid, like vehicles, body armor and night-vision goggles. But the announcement of assistance related specifically to chemical weapons attacks comes after a United Nations report Monday confirmed that sarin gas was used in an August 21 attack outside of Damascus.
The plan to provide the opposition and others on the ground with chemical weapons protection had been in the works since before the August 21st attack, a senior administration official said.
Because of the rules surrounding such a move, there will still be at least a two-week delay before any of the materials would actually make it into Syria.
Before the materials can be transferred, the House and Senate foreign affairs committees must be consulted and a formal report must be transmitted to the Speaker of the House and the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at least 15 days in advance.
In addition to opposition forces, this authorization would also provide non-lethal assistance to the people who will be on the ground working to detect and destroy chemical weapons caches, as well as State Department and USAID officials.
Carrie Dann contributed reporting