US to train Syria rebels for political, not military solution: US official

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

Al-Akhbar Management

Published Monday, October 27, 2014

The United States does not expect Syrian rebels it plans to train to fight Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants to also take on Syrian Arab Army forces, but sees them as a crucial part of a political solution to end the war, a senior US official said.

The US, which is leading an international coalition bombing ISIS in Syria, has said it wants to train and equip so-called "moderate" rebels to fight the militant group which has seized tracts of land in Syria and neighboring Iraq.

Asked whether those rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) units would ultimately go on to fight the Syrian army, John Allen, the US representative to the coalition, told the Asharq al-Awsat daily:

"No. What we would like to see is for the FSA and the forces that we will ultimately generate, train and equip to become the credible force that the Assad government ultimately has to acknowledge and recognize."

"There is not going to be a military solution here," he added, in comments published at the weekend on the newspaper's English language website.

The FSA is a term used to describe dozens of armed groups fighting the Syrian army to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad but with little or no central command. They have been widely outgunned by Islamist insurgents such as ISIS.

Rebel fighters have voiced frustration with the US-led approach to fighting ISIS. They say Washington and its Arab allies are too focused on quashing the militant group at the expense of confronting Syrian army, which many rebels still see as the ultimate "enemy."

The Syrian air force has ramped up its own bombing campaign on insurgent-held areas since the US-led airstrikes began last month.

Political outcome

Allen said there was a need to build up the credibility of the “moderate” Syrian opposition at a political level.

"But the intent is not to create a field force to liberate Damascus – that is not the intent," Allen, a retired US general, told the newspaper.

"The intent is that in the political outcome, they must be a prominent – perhaps the preeminent voice – at the table to ultimately contribute to the political outcome that we seek," he said at the start of a Middle East tour.

US President Barack Obama said last month he wanted to train and equip FSA rebels to "strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to the extremists" and to prevent US troops from being dragged into another ground war.

"The outcome that we seek in Syria is akin to the (anti-ISIS) strategy that fits into a much larger regional strategy and that outcome is a political outcome that does not include Assad," Allen said.

The United Nations says more than 191,000 people have been killed since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011. Rights groups say the actual figure is higher.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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