U.S. May Start New Military Training Program for Syrian Rebels

Syrian rebels hold their weapons as they prepare to fight against Syrian troops, in Homs province, Syria. Syrian rebels hold their weapons as they prepare to fight against Syrian troops, in Homs province, Syria. Rebels Battalion of Baba Amro/AP File Photo

President Barack Obama may announce today that the U.S. Army will start to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels, heeding a three-year call from the Syrian opposition for more help against Bashar al-Assad, despite fears that such a program could ultimately put the U.S. at risk. 

Yesterday, a senior White House official told the Wall Street Journal that the president is poised to make a statement about counterterrorism in Syria during a commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy today, explaining that:

The president will make clear his intention to expand our support to the moderate Syrian operation and increase our support to Syria's neighbors, who are dealing with the terrorist threats emanating from the situation Assad has created in Syria. 

The plan would be for a limited number of American troops to train carefully selected members of the Free Syrian Army in counterterrorism operations in Jordan. A number of other countries, like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and, naturally, Jordan, could participate in the program. And, per theWall Street Journal, the mission could expand some training already being done in a covert CIA operation, which has fallen short of rebel expectations: 

Syrian opposition leaders have long complained about the size of the CIA's covert arming-and-training program, which began last summer after months of delay, arguing that an overt U.S. military-led program could sharply increase the number of rebels in training. Under a new arrangement still under discussion within the administration, the U.S. military would overtly conduct most of the training, and the CIA would take the lead in providing arms covertly.

Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a measure to allow the military to provide training and equipment to vetted rebels. However, according to the Associated Press, the move is still being discussed among senior officials and Obama might not divulge details of the plan at the event. 

When asked by the AP about the program, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki offered a guarded statement, saying: 

We have been clear that we see Syria as a counterterrorism challenge, and therefore certainly we factor that in, in options we consider... The current policy approach continues to be strengthening the moderate opposition, which offers an alternative to the brutal Assad regime and the more extremist elements within the opposition.

According to the official, members of the administration have concluded that Syrian President Bashar al Assad, who has been accused of war crimes, will continue on his stubborn path of resistance against the opposition unless the situation changes on the ground. But officials fear that any training, or arms, given to Syrian rebels — even the most moderate ones – could make its way back to al-Qaeda militants who would use the tactics against the America. Terrorist groups like, the al-Nusra Fronthave attacked both Assad's forces and the rebels, making it difficult to even sort out who the U.S. should be supporting.

Secretary of State John Kerry also revealed on Wednesday that Obama is also planning to announce a $5 billion "terrorism partnership fund" that will help other nations fight back against terrorism, as well. 

More than 150,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, since it broke out more than three years ago. 

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.