The Pentagon has drawn up plans to train a small group of Syrian rebels opposed to the regime of President Bashar Assad in an effort to influence the bloody civil war that has engulfed the country since 2011, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Citing anonymous sources, the Journal reported that defense officials told key congressional committees at closed-door briefings last week that preliminary military estimates call for training a 2,300-man force over an 18-month period.
The fighters would be vetted to ensure they are ideological moderates and not Islamic extremists, who have flocked to the country to fight against Assad’s Shi’ite-aligned forces.
The training would not begin until next year and would require congressional approval.
The plan, which would cost up to $500 million, would also provide military equipment to a pool of additional fighters. Training could be completed in Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, or Jordan, although officials said Jordan has said it fears retribution from the regime of President Bashar Assad and doesn’t want a training program within the country’s borders.
Some Pentagon officials and other critics inside the administration have said President Barack Obama is moving too slowly to aid the moderate Syrian opposition, whose support has dwindled as Assad has gained the upper hand.
“We’re losing ground every day,” Aiad Koudsi, deputy prime minister of the opposition Syrian interim-government, told the Journal. He said the U.S. was moving “very slowly, resulting in undercutting the moderate Free Syrian Army.”
The Obama administration has supplied Syrian rebels with nonlethal aid, including communications equipment and other items, but has hesitated to supply rebels with weapons out of fear they will fall into the hands of extremists.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in April that 150,000 people have been killed in Syria’s Civil War, Reuters reported.