US To Send 400 Trainers and Hundreds More Troops to Train Syrian Rebels

FSA rebels cleaning their AK47s, Oct. 19, 2012The Pentagon will deploy more than 400 U.S. military trainers and hundreds more supporting personnel to four training sites in three countries as early as March as part of a long-awaited plan to help rebel forces to stabilize Syria.

In addition to the trainers, the U.S. military expects to deploy hundreds of additional U.S. military personnel as so-called enabling forces who will deploy alongside the trainers to provide security and other support at the training sites, according to senior defense officials. Coalition partners are expected to contribute forces as well for an effort that for now is envisioned to train about 5,400 rebel forces each year for three years….

Since December, administration officials have said that training program could begin as early as March in the three countries that have agreed to host the training: Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. At least four training sites in those countries are being identified and the plan is to split the approximately 400 U.S. trainers and their accompanying support forces evenly across those sites for what is expected to be a six- to eight-week training cycle….

“We’ve identified numerous groups that we believe are suitable for training based on our current understanding of the environment and we continue to evaluate the situation,” [Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Elissa] Smith said.

There are other concerns, however. The void left by removing those fighters from the battlefield to get them trained, some of whom will be rebel commanders on the frontlines of the fight against the Islamic State, could be detrimental to the fight inside Syria, said at least one analyst who studies the conflict.

Gordon Lubold is a senior military writer for Defense One

Image: FSA rebels cleaning their AK47s, Oct. 19, 2012 (photo: Voice of America)