September 19, 2013
The Pentagon has put together a plan to equip and train “moderate” Syrian rebel forces. The move would mark the first instance of the American military having direct contact with the opposition.
Information regarding the new plan was relayed by two Obama administration officials to CNN. The idea has allegedly been under consideration since the first evidence emerged of a massive chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on August 21. The US maintains the attack was carried out by Assad’s government.
Though the two officials did not cite many specifics on the proposal, the effort would involve training that would take place in a country near Syria. However, weapons would not be directly supplied as the Pentagon has no authority to do so.
“We have any number of options under development that could expand our support to the moderate opposition, but no decision has been taken at this point,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey told reporters on Wednesday.
The Pentagon’s plan would involve US troops training selected rebels on the use of small arms, along with command and control and other military tactics.
“The path to the resolution of the Syrian conflict is through a developed capable moderate opposition, and we know how to do that,” Dempsey said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier this month.
“I think that subsequent to that, we would probably return to have a discussion about what we might do with the moderate opposition in a more overt way,” he added.
According to the Obama administration officials, the idea of training rebel groups may face poor timing as the US is currently engaged with both Syria and Russia in a plan to put the country’s chemical weapons stockpiles under international control.
Increased hostility among moderates and the extremist Al-Qaeda-affiliated wing may further complicate plans to intervene on behalf of the Syrian opposition.
On Tuesday, Syrian rebels turned on one another in the border city of Azaz, located next to Turkey. Clashes were reported in the area between the Free Syrian Army and fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). The fighting reportedly broke out after the ISIS attempted to abduct a German doctor from a local hospital guarded by an FSA unit. The physician was accused of being a spy.
The ISIS, which is believed to have superior equipment by way of Gulf states supplying arms, was reported to have sent 600 reinforcements from the city of Raqqa to bolster its control over Azaz, which lies on a vital supply route for Syrian rebels.