US Troops to Train Syrian Rebels for ISIS Takedown
Train-and-equip plan for moderate Syrian opposition designed to derail insurgents
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 16, 2015 12:54 PM CST
In this Nov. 19, 2014, photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter takes a break in Kobani, Syria.   (AP Photo/Jake Simkin)

(Newser) – In continuing efforts to thwart Islamic militants in Syria, the US Defense Department confirmed last night that it's sending 400 troops to train moderate Syrian opposition, Army Times reports. Trainers will set up shop in Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, with the six- to eight-week training sessions tentatively set to start in March, Defense One reports. Hundreds more military personnel will serve alongside the troops as "enablers," providing needed support and security, and coalition fighters are expected to add their own troops. The Obama administration has already gotten flak for mucking up its fight against ISIS in Syria, as well as not reaching out to support moderate rebels sooner. Between 2,100 and 3,000 troops are already in Iraq training Iraqi and Kurdish forces, which, in combination with airstrikes, has somewhat slowed down the insurgents, Defense One notes.

But the US has very little on-the-ground intelligence in Syria, and finding rebel fighters there who are truly moderate and not linked to extremist groups is a challenge (though the Pentagon is described by Defense One as being "confident" it's up to the vetting task). Military officials are aiming to train at least 5,000 rebel troops the first year through the new $500 million program, with an eventual goal of 15,000 troops they think they'll need to take back ISIS-controlled regions in Syria, Reuters reports. The Syrian Arab News Agency is, not surprisingly, displeased, claiming that the Pentagon's announcement shows the US is "continuing to support terrorism in Syria," though Syria tends to label all of its armed opponents "terrorists," Reuters adds. (A CIA review found that arming insurgents is usually a waste of time—and could make things worse.)