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New York Times

WASHINGTON - A small number of CIA officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, U.S. officials and Arab intelligence officers said.

The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries, including Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.

The CIA officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with al-Qaida or other terrorist groups, the New York Times reported that one senior U.S. official said. The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria's neighbors would do so.

The clandestine intelligence-gathering effort is the most detailed known instance of the limited U.S. support for the military campaign against the Syrian government. It is also part of Washington's attempt to increase the pressure on President Bashar Assad of Syria, who has recently escalated his government's deadly crackdown on civilians and the militias battling his rule.

With Russia blocking more aggressive steps against the Assad government, the United States and its allies have instead turned to diplomacy and aiding allied efforts to arm the rebels to force Assad from power.

By helping to vet rebel groups, U.S. intelligence operatives in Turkey hope to learn more about a growing, changing opposition network inside Syria and to establish new ties.

U.S. officials and retired CIA personnel said the administration is also weighing additional assistance to rebels, such as providing satellite imagery on Syrian troop locations and movements.