Pentagon officials expect to begin training a few hundred Syrian rebels at various international training sites as soon as next month.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters during a Friday briefing at the Pentagon that officials have selected up to 1,500 Syrian moderate opposition fighters to take training classes, which are expected to begin in four-to-six weeks. The U.S. military and its allies have selected four countries to host the training sites – Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. U.S. advisers will begin teaching Syrian fighters how to organize and battle back the Islamic State at the sites, Rear Adm. Kirby said.
“The main goals of the train-and-equip mission inside for syria moderate opposition fighters is to get them competent of basic military leaderships and organization and basic military skills,” he said.
Officials say that each country is likely to host between 200 to 300 of the trainers for the duration of the program. The number of trainees per class “could grow over time,” Rear Adm. Kirby said.
The Pentagon expects to send up to 1,000 U.S. military personnel to train the rebels. About 700 of those personnel will be trainers while the remaining batch will be made up of intelligence analysts, logisticians, support personnel, Rear Adm. Kirby said. The trainers have two goals that they want to achieve with the rebels, he said.
“One, to be able to go back to their own community, their own neighborhoods, and begin to defend themselves, and their neighbors,” he said. “And then eventually, over time, when they’re ready, to go on the offense against [the Islamic State] inside Syria.”
Officials developed the train-and-equip plan after the Islamic State spread its violent religious war across the border of Iraq and into Syria in 2014.
The training update comes just as Kurdish forces have shown progress in battling the Islamic State by capturing the key northeast Syrian town of Tel Hamis. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that Kurdish forces killed at least 175 Islamist militants in an offensive which began last weekend, Reuters reported. Kurdish forces also wrested from militants control of the northern Syrian town of Kobane in January.