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US starts training 'moderate' Syrian rebels: Official

AFP , Thursday 7 May 2015
Free Syrian Army. (Photo: Reuters)
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The American military has started training "moderate" Syrian rebels in Jordan to prepare to fight the Islamic State group, US and Jordanian officials said Thursday, after months of delays.

The training in basic military skills will eventually extend to sites in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, said a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It's underway," the official told AFP.

A spokesman for the Jordanian government, Mohamed al-Momani, confirmed that the training had started "several days ago" in cooperation with partners and members of the anti-IS coalition.

For Jordan, the war against "terrorism" required Arabs and Muslims "to protect our interests and the security of our countries and peoples," he said.

Jordan had already announced in March that it would help train Syrian tribesmen to take on the IS group.

President Barack Obama has been criticized over the pace of the training program, with some lawmakers accusing the White House of a lackluster, slow-moving effort.

The Obama administration has spent months trying to select and screen the fighters to be trained to ensure no extremists slip through.

According to Pentagon officials, more than 3,750 Syrians volunteered for the training and roughly 400 completed "pre-screening."

The US Congress has approved $500 million to train about 5,000 Syrian fighters in a year's time.

About 1,000 US troops are expected to help with the training and 450 forces from the US-led coalition have already deployed for the effort, officials said.

But the plan to forge a moderate Syrian rebel force has been marked by disagreement between the United States and its allies about the objective of the training.

Turkey and other governments want to see the rebels confront the Syrian regime, while Washington has said the first priority must be combating the IS group.

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