Washington Wants to Train Syria’s ‘Moderate’ Rebels

Move would mean a big escalation of U.S. role in the conflict

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Loubna Mrie / Reuters

A Free Syrian Army leader teaches fellow members how to handle weapons in Aleppo's Saif al-Dawla district, September 18, 2013

U.S. officials have, for the first time, spoken of their desire to train moderate factions of the embattled Free Syrian Army. If given the green light, the plan would see U.S. troops come into direct contact with rebel groups for the first time. Currently, most exchanges with opposition militias are handled by the C.I.A.

Training would be held in a third country, CNN reports. The proposal was divulged to CNN by two unnamed Obama administration officials, and would involve instructing rebels in the use of arms and in military tactics.

CNN said that Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey “hinted” at the plan during  a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month. “The path to the resolution of the Syrian conflict is through a developed capable moderate opposition, and we know how to do that,” he told the committee.

Although U.S. President Barack Obama has threatened a military strike on Damascus — in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack carried out by Syrian forces on Aug. 21 — he has vowed not to put U.S. troops on the ground in Syria.