The Cable

U.S. delivers first aid shipment to Free Syrian Army

Early Tuesday morning, the United States delivered its first direct shipment of food and medical supplies to the rebel Free Syrian Army, with some help from its representatives in Washington. 

At about 5 a.m. Tuesday morning at an undisclosed location across Syria's northern border, a U.S. C-17 transport aircraft based out of Dover Air Force Base offloaded the first of what will be several shipments totaling $8 million in halal "Meals Ready to Eat" and combat medical packs called Warrior Aid and Litter Kits. Those supplies are marked with a note from the Syrian Support Group, the U.S. government's implementing partner, which coordinated the logistics for the transfer to the FSA.

Gen. Salim Idris, the leader of the FSA's Supreme Military Command, who met with Secretary of State John Kerry last month, was on hand to oversee the delivery of the new aid. He is also in charge of overseeing its delivery to warehousing facilities in Aleppo province that are under FSA control. 

"The Syrian Support Group was the U.S. government's key partner in organizing and delivering the supplies directly into Syria. With the protection and oversight of General Idris and Col. Abdel Jabar al-Akaidi, the supplies will be distributed to units under the command of the Supreme Military Council operating throughout each of Syria's 14 provinces," the SSG said in a statement provided to The Cable.

The SSG is the only U.S.-based organization licensed to provide support directly to the Free Syrian Army. The SSG taped a video of Idris thanking the United States and the SSG for the supplies as well as another video of the trucks heading into Syria. 

Later on Tuesday, Idris sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking the president to help train and equip the FSA in the wake of the use of chemical weapons inside Syria, which Idris said was perpetrated by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

He also said that Obama needs to be more forceful in responding to the regime's use of chemical weapons lest Assad feel emboldened to use them again.

"The Regime's history of desensitizing the international community to its gradual use of internationally banned weapons as led me to the alarming conclusion that these incidents are but a prelude to larger and more systematic deployment of chemical weapons as part of Assad's military strategy," Idris wrote. "We appreciate, as you noted today at your press conference, the critical importance that facts will play in your analysis. However, I respectfully submit to you that Assad is not taking your carefully phrased condemnations as warnings, but as loopholes, which justify his continued use of chemical weapons on a small, strategic scale."

Syrian Support Group

The Cable

DHS: New Boston bomber suspect reentered U.S. on valid visa

One of the three suspects arrested Wednesday for allegedly helping Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hide evidence reentered the United States in January after dropping out of school, but his visa was still technically valid when the government let him back in the country, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Azamat Tazhayakov was arrested and charged Wednesday with obstruction of justice for his role in disposing of Tsarnaev's possessions days after the April 15 bombing attack at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Tazhayakov and fellow Kazakhstan citizen Dias Kadyrbayev stand accused of disposing of a laptop computer and backpack containing fireworks that belonged to Tsarnaev, with whom they interacted with after the attack, according to the criminal complaint filed by the FBI. U.S. citizen Robel Phillopos was charged with making false statements to federal investigators during a terrorism investigation.

Federal law-enforcement officials later found the laptop and backpack. The attorney for the two Kazakh suspects said Wednesday they did not realize they were disposing of evidence related to the bombing.

CNN reported Wednesday that Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev were both in the United States illegally. Federal officials also learned at Wednesday's immigration court hearing that Tazhayakov had been granted entry back into the United States on Jan. 20 following a trip to Kazakhstan, even though his student status at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth had been terminated on Jan. 3.

"They shouldn't have let him in," a U.S. official told CNN. "Bells should have gone off."

Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, told The Cable Wednesday afternoon that Tazhayakov's student visa was still technically valid when he came back through U.S. customs on Jan. 20 and Custom and Border Protection (CBP) had not been notified that he was no longer a UMass student.

"The individual in question entered the United States on Jan. 20, 2013 pursuant to a student visa with a stated expiration date of Aug. 30, 2013. At the time of his re-entry, CBP had not been notified that the individual had left school on Jan. 4, 2013. As a result, CBP re-admitted the individual into the United States pursuant to the unexpired visa," Boogaard said.

DHS has recently reformed the student-visa system to ensure that CBP is provided with real-time updates on all relevant student-visa information, according to Boogard, but at the time of Tazhayakov's re-entry there was no derogatory information that suggested he posed a national security or public safety threat.

A DHS official told The Cable that the customs officer who handled Tazhayakov's visa when he returned to the United States did not know that UMass had reported that he had left the school. Typically, students are given 30 days to "normalize their status" even after their student visas are terminated because they are no longer enrolled, the official added.

After Tazhayakov was granted reentry into the United States, his visa was eventually terminated, but that wouldn't necessarily cause Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to go and round him up, especially if he didn't appear to pose any threat.

"If an individual has no criminal history or other derogatory information, then they typically do not present a priority case for ICE if ultimately they are unable to normalize their status with the school," the DHS official said.