Pentagon: Training of Syrian Rebels Could Begin in Spring

January 6, 2015  

The United States military has made progress in its effort to identify moderate Syrian rebels to train for the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists and a U.S. training mission could begin this spring, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, welcomed statements from Ankara indicating Turkey and the United States plan to conclude a deal this month on training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels, part of the campaign to counter Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria.

Kirby said Major General Michael Nagata, commander of U.S. special operations forces in the Middle East, was in the process of talking with Syrian opposition groups in an effort to identify individual recruits to train and equip.

“I think if we continue to make the progress that we’re making now, that we believe that we could start conducting some training of moderate opposition by early spring,” Kirby told a news conference, according to Reuters.

The United States began conducting air strikes against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria last year after the group overran part of northwestern Iraq and Baghdad asked for Washington’s assistance.

President Barack Obama has authorized more than 3,000 U.S. troops to advise and assist Iraqi forces and to train 12 brigades of Iraqi troops, including three from the Kurdish peshmerga forces.

He also approved a mission for the American military to train and equip a moderate force of Syrian rebels to counter Islamic State terrorists active in Syria, which is in the midst of a civil war between President Bashar al-Assad and his opponents.

The Pentagon hopes to be able to train about 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels a year for three years. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have agreed to host training sites for the rebels, but Kirby did not specify where the training might start.

Even before ISIS gained power in Syria and Iraq, there have been calls on the West to arm the rebels in order to help them fight Assad’s forces. Small-scale weapons aid and some military training has already been supplied to select rebel groups, along with “non-lethal” aid such as medical supplies and other equipment.

More extensive assistance has been ruled out, due to fear that jihadist rebel groups, such as ISIS and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, might get their hands on these weapons.

House Republicans recently started working on legislation that would keep the Obama administration on a short leash when it comes to arming and training Syrian rebels.

The legislation would require the Obama administration to send a progress report to Congress every 90 days if the arming and training is approved.

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