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Sunday, June 23, 2013

US has been training Syrian rebels since last year

The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday that the United States has been secretly training and arming the Syrian rebels - albeit on a small scale - since late 2012.
The training has involved fighters from the Free Syrian Army, a loose confederation of rebel groups that the Obama administration has promised to back with expanded military assistance, said a U.S. official, who discussed the effort anonymously because he was not authorized to disclose details.
The number of rebels given U.S. instruction in Jordan and Turkey could not be determined, but in Jordan, the training involves 20 to 45 insurgents at a time, a rebel commander said.
U.S. special operations teams selected the trainees over the last year when the U.S. military set up regional supply lines to provide the rebels with nonlethal assistance, including uniforms, radios and medical aid.
The two-week courses include training with Russian-designed 14.5-millimeter antitank rifles, anti-tank missiles and 23-millimeter antiaircraft weapons, according to a rebel commander in the Syrian province of Dara who helps oversee weapons acquisitions and who asked that his name not be used because the program is secret.
The training began in November at a new American base in the desert in southwestern Jordan, he said. So far, about 100 rebels from Dara have attended four courses, and rebels from Damascus, the Syrian capital, have attended three, he said.
"Those from the CIA, we would sit and talk with them during breaks from training, and afterward they would try to get information on the situation" in Syria, he said.
The rebels were promised enough armor-piercing anti-tank weapons and other arms to gain a military advantage over Assad's better-equipped army and security forces, the Dara commander said. But arms shipments from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, provided with assent from the Americans, took months to arrive and included less than the rebels had expected.
Since last year, the weapons sent through the Dara rebel military council have included four or five Russian-made heavy Concourse antitank missiles, 18 14.5-millimeter guns mounted on the backs of pickup trucks and 30 82-millimeter recoil-less rifles. The weapons are all Soviet or Russian models but manufactured in other countries, the commander said. Such weapons allow the rebels to easily use captured munitions from the Syrian army, which has a large arsenal of Russian and Soviet arms.
"I'm telling you, this amount of weapons, once they are spread across the province [of Dara], is considered nothing," the commander said. "We need more than this to tip the balance or for there to even be a balance of power."
The problem is that there are no good options in Syria. The Obama administration missed the boat two years ago, when they could have backed non-Islamist rebels before the Islamists got involved. But they couldn't decide, as usual, which side to back. Now, they're left with a choice of Assad or al-Qaeda, and that's a Faustian bargain if I've ever seen one. Sarah Palin is right: Let Allah sort this out.

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