Washington, D.C. – Congress for the first time authorized the Department of Defense to provide vetted-Syrian rebels with anti-aircraft missiles.

The provision is contained within the $619 billion Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the Senate on Dec. 8 and the House on Dec. 2.

Under the bill, the Secretaries of Defense and State must submit a report to Congress explaining why they determined Syrian groups need man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).

The Fiscal Year 2015 NDAA, which originally authorized the Defense Department’s Syria Train and Equip Program, did not contain any explicit bans on the provisions of anti-aircraft weapons to the vetted Syrian opposition.  Critics of the provision have raised concern that in providing such weapons, they could end up in the hands of groups that oppose the United States, such as Al-Nusra Front.

The Defense and State Department reports must contain several elements, as described by the NDAA. They include,

  • A detailed description of each element of the vetted Syrian opposition receiving MANPADS
  • The justification for providing those elements with MANPADS
  • The number and type of MANPADS provided
  • The logistics plan for resupplying approved elements with MANPADS
  • The duration of support

The inclusion of the provision represents a departure from previous versions of the NDAA. The original House bill specifically prohibited the transfer of MANPADS to “any entity” in Syria, while the Senate bill did not address it.

Featured image courtesy of MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty.