Anonymous American officials have told The Associated Press that there is an ongoing effort to train “secular Syrian fighters in Jordan” and aiding so-called “moderates” in the rebel forces trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The press has reported these clandestine activities for several months now, but the official reiteration signals the Obama administration’s intention to make the policy known, perhaps to placate voices in Washington urging more decisive action in Syria’s long, bloody civil war.
“The training has been taking place since late last year at an unspecified location, concentrating largely on Sunnis and tribal Bedouins who formerly served as members of the Syrian army,” according to The Associated Press. The trainees are not current members of the Free Syrian Army, officials said, because the US “fear[s] the growing role of extremist militia groups in the rebel ranks, including some linked to al-Qaida.”
The military training has coincided with a sharp increase in the CIA’s effort to coordinate the delivery of weapons to Syria’s rebels from countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and others. This, despite the Obama administration’s continuing claims to stop short of directly arming the rebels.
While Washington claims its efforts are meant to stem the rise of Islamic extremists in the rebel forces, some with links to al-Qaeda, their ability to properly vet rebels is extremely limited and has failed in the past, according to intelligence officials.
In October, The New York Times published an article confirming that, “Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists,” despite so-called vetting processes by the US.
Not only are the rebel groups receiving aid jihadists, but they face increasing allegations of war crimes and just last week appear to have used chemical weapons, an act President Obama has deemed a “red line” for the Assad regime.
Besides the poor capacity to direct arms to supposedly moderate elements of the rebel opposition, the meddling in Syria’s civil war is prolonging the conflict, pushing it towards stalemate by boosting the fighting confidence of the rebels, while Assad maintains his backing from other allies.