Middle East

US training of Syria rebel fighters expands to Turkey: source

A rebel fighter stands beside a building as smoke rises from what rebels said was a shell dropped by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Assad in Mastouma village in Idlib city, after what they said they are advancing in the area May 19, 2015. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

WASHINGTON: The U.S. military has started training Syrian opposition fighters in Turkey to combat ISIS, an expected expansion of a program that first launched in Jordan weeks ago, a U.S. official told Reuters Thursday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not offer details on the size of the first group of recruits undergoing training in Turkey or the specific start date.

The Pentagon declined to comment.

President Barack Obama's administration says the program aims only to target ISIS forces, not troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. But critics, including in the U.S. Congress, say that theoretical limitation is unlikely to withstand the realities of Syria's messy civil war.

The war in Syria has killed more than 220,000 people and left a third of the population homeless.

The United States hopes the long-awaited program will train just over 5,000 Syrian fighters a year, giving the U.S. military partners on the ground to combat ISIS.

So far, the U.S. role in Syria has been largely limited to airstrikes, although American special operations forces killed a senior ISIS leader in a raid there this month.

All of the U.S. military training of Syrian opposition fighters is taking place outside of the country. Beyond Jordan and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have also offered to host training sites.





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