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Syrian rebels to receive US training to fight Assad, says opposition official - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A rebel fighter from the Free Syrian Army's Al-Rahman legion takes up position behind sandbags in Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, on December 22, 2014. (Reuters/Baszsem Khabieh)

A rebel fighter from the Free Syrian Army’s Al-Rahman legion takes up position behind sandbags in Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, on December 22, 2014. (Reuters/Baszsem Khabieh)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Five thousand members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are to receive training in Turkey to fight against both the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Syrian government forces, a senior FSA commander told Asharq Al-Awsat, despite US silence on the issue.

Rami Dalati, a member of the FSA Military Command’s Higher Council, said that the US Defense Department was coordinating with Ankara to provide military training to specially selected FSA soldiers.

“This process began four months ago, and at the time we insisted that any training must take place in Turkey due to its geographic proximity to Syria,” he said.

The senior FSA official praised Washington’s “response” to the FSA’s calls to amend the military plan and allow the FSA to target not just ISIS, but also Assad regime forces. “This is something that we insisted on,” Dalati told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Dalati’s comments came as the Pentagon claimed the US military had made progress in its efforts to identify and train “moderate” Syrian rebels to fight against ISIS, but did not comment on whether the FSA fighters would also target Assad government troops.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that efforts are well underway for US Special Forces to provide training to moderate FSA fighters in Turkey.

“I think if we continue to make the progress that we’re making now, that we believe that we could start conducting some training of moderate opposition by early spring,” Kirby told reporters at a press conference earlier this week.

However, Hadi Al-Bahra, the former head of the Western-backed opposition Syrian National Coalition—the political wing of the FSA—argued that despite the new training program, Washington must do more to assist the FSA.

“The issue is that developing policies and procedures of putting this [military training] program into operation takes a very long time . . . It is expected to start by the end of February or end of March, which is a very long time to leave the FSA at [its] current level of assistance,” he said after meeting Denmark’s foreign minister in Copenhagen earlier this week.