A revamped program for training Syrian “rebels” involves informants and even less oversight.
In October– around the same time Russia stepped-in on behalf of the Syrian government– the US decided to end the current train and equip program for Syrian rebels. Through this program, the US planned to train about 5,000 rebels each year by sending fighters to camps in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Turkey, and Qatar. At this point, Washington’s first priority was still overthrowing Assad; fighting the rise of IS would be figured out later. Either way, the US figured they had better get as many opposition forces into Syria as possible.
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So Washington finally admitted that the current training program was essentially a failure. Stating that through the train and equip program, opposition groups were either “leaving the program” or just taking the weapons and handing them over to other groups. It was recently revealed that last year, weapons intended for Syrian rebels disappeared from a CIA training camp in Jordan and ended up on the black market. The United States was handing out free weapons and training to nearly any opposition group that was available. But with the resilience of pro-Assad forces, the US has had to change it’s game a bit.
The revamped training program focuses on even less oversight by training fewer individuals. Instead of training full units, the US is only training the leaders of opposition groups. Who are then expected to train the lower ranks as well as distribute the weapons and supplies.
But the Pentagon isn’t only training leaders of combat troops, they’re also training spies. A new strategy includes on the ground surveillance from a trained opposition. The rebels are trained to spot and identify targets with communication equipment which will help the US identify where to conduct air strikes. “Rather than training 10 people to use a rifle, if you can train a smaller number of people to accurately describe their own position relative to the position of enemy forces, it enables them to better coordinate resupply and describe enemy positions,” one of the officials said. It would probably be safe to assume then that this new plan involves even more air strikes and less combat.
This leaves a lot of open ended questions. Washington doesn’t mention how the rebels will gathering information. For instance, will some of them be infiltrating IS sources? Also, the US doesn’t define what it means by “target.” As the US’s ultimate goal is still the removal of Assad, targets are likely to include Syrian government forces as a priority. If the opportunity presents itself, maybe they will take out some IS targets as well.
As usual, the Pentagon is vague in regards to who will be receiving the training. Stating that they are Sunni Arabs but not providing the public with any of their affiliations or vetting process. Through this current trickle-down program, the United States claims to have less than 100 trained rebels in Syria right now but have reached approximately 10,000 Sunni forces. This number does not include any Kurdish forces.
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