A rebel fighter from the Free Syrian Army’s Al Rahman legion takes up position behind sandbags in Jobar, a suburb of Damascus. (File photo: Reuters)
The United States will send 400 troops to train moderate Syrian rebels this spring, Pentagon spokesman Maj. James Brindle confirmed the planned deployment early Friday morning.
The plan is part of the U.S. strategy to roll back the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group that has seized much of eastern and northern Syria.
Last month, President Barack Obama signed into law a massive defense policy bill that endorsed his plan to fight ISIS militants, including air strikes and training Iraqis and moderate Syrian rebels.
The law authorized the training and equipping of moderate Syrian rebels battling the extremists for two years, and provided $5 billion to train Iraqis battling the militants who brutally rule large sections of the two countries.
Meeting in Istanbul
Senior U.S. officials met Syrian opposition and civil society leaders in Istanbul this week to discuss the program.
A Pentagon spokesman told Reuters on Thursday the U.S. military is planning to deploy more than 400 troops to help train the Syrian rebels.
The Syrian state news agency on Friday attacked the U.S. military plan, saying it was a support for terrorists.
“Washington continues supporting terrorism in Syria and announces its intention to send 400 soldiers to train the terrorists,” the state news agency SANA said.
The Syrian government has depicted the entire armed opposition as terrorists since civil war erupted in 2011.
The insurgency is today dominated by hardline Islamist groups including ISIS and the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. The non-jihadist opposition has little presence.
The United States has not yet said exactly which elements of the opposition it plans to train, though it says the support will go to moderates.
Syria has said it is ready to be part of an international effort to fight Islamic State. But the United States, which is leading a coalition in air strikes against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, has said President Bashar al-Assad is part of the problem.