US Begins Training Syrian Opposition Forces

The US has started training the first group of 90 moderate Syrian fighters, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday. The fighters, which have been “highly vetted,” should be ready to begin fighting ISIS extremists within a “few months,” though Carter emphasized they are not being trained to fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. The Syrians will be trained and armed by US troops in a “secure location” and, if necessary, will be supported in battle by US forces, with airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, as well as air strikes, Carter said. “Of course we would have some responsibility to protect those forces,” he said at a Pentagon briefing. “Their mission would be to fight [ISIS] … We do expect to support them in that fight. If contested by regime forces, we would have some responsibility there too,” he said when questioned. What kind of support would be provided has not been decided. Asked how the US would keep the trained Syrians from attacking Assad, who was the target when the civil war started two years ago, Carter said that would be influenced by where they were positioned and how they were trained. “They are not being asked by us, it’s not part of the program,” for them to fight Assad’s forces, he said.