US to Deploy 400 Troops to Train Syria Militants

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Opposition fighters walk in the al-Breij area northwest on the northern Syrian town of Aleppo after they reportedly re-took control of the area from pro-government forces on January 7, 2015. AFP/Fadi al-Halabi

Published Friday, January 16, 2015

Defense officials of the United States said on Thursday the US will deploy about 400 troops in countries neighboring Syria to train “moderate” opposition fighters.

The US military has not yet identified where it will draw its forces from for the training mission, expected to begin in the spring. Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have offered to host the training.

The training program is a part of the US’ plan to field local forces in Syria. The Pentagon has estimated that it can train more than 5,000 recruits in the first year and that up to 15,000 will be needed to retake areas of eastern Syria controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Since the start of the Syrian civil war, Western powers, and some regional countries have supported rebels by arming, financing and politically empowering militant groups in the country.

On January 5, a senior Turkish foreign ministry official said that Turkey and the US aim to finalize an agreement on equipping and training “moderate” Syrian rebels until the end of January. However, this support has backfired as many of the weapons provided have ended in the hands of ISIS fighters, who have been targeted by a US-led coalition in an air raid campaign since August.

"Around 1,500 to 2,000 people are expected to be trained in Turkey (in the first year)," the official said, adding that a "limited number" of US soldiers would come to Turkey to help carry out the training jointly with Turkish colleagues.

The US decision to train and equip rebel groups in Syria was criticized by several renowned officials who warned of dire consequences.

Former US Congressman Ron Paul denounced in an interview with Russia Today the plans, noting that these Western-backed forces have been helpful to ISIS, which since August has captured swathes of lands in Iraq and Syria.

“The Free Syrian Army (FSA) turned over the weapons, that we (the US) sent them, to ISIS,” Paul said. “It is pretty well recorded that for $50,000 the FSA turned over one of the two American journalists to ISIS.”‬‪

Meanwhile, Gulf state Qatar, with the help of the US, has already been covertly training "moderate” Syrian rebels to fight the Syrian army and ISIS, as well as other extremist groups for over a year, sources claimed in November.

The camp, south of Doha between Saudi Arabia's border and Udeid area, the largest US air base in the Middle East, is being used to train the FSA militants and other rebels, the sources said.

In September a report by the London-based small-arms research organization Conflict Armament Research revealed that ISIS jihadists in Syria as well appear to be using US military-issued arms and weapons supplied to rebels by Saudi Arabia.

The report said the jihadists disposed of "significant quantities" of US-made small arms including M-16 assault rifles and included photos showing the markings "Property of US Govt."

It also found that anti-tank rockets used by ISIS in Syria were "identical to M79 rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the Free Syrian Army umbrella in 2013."

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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