The U.S. has screened about 1,200 moderate Syrian rebels who could participate in a new training program so they eventually can return to the fight against Islamic State insurgents who have taken control of large portions of Syria, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
Press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby says the fighters will continue to be screened as they move through the process, and they could go to any of the three training facilities in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — once those sites are set up.
The rebel fighters, who come from several moderate groups in Syria, will get training on basic military equipment and skills, including firearms, communications and command and control abilities.
Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, the military officer in charge of the Syria train and equip program, has been heading the screening operation. An advance team of about 100 U.S. troops in the region are setting up the training sites, and eventually there will be about 1,000 troops involved in the program, including several hundred trainers. The remainder will do security, logistics and other support duties.
The U.S. has been talking about training moderate Syrian rebels for months, but has been moving very slowly to identify groups and screen the fighters in an effort to ensure that enemy insurgents are not brought in.