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US Weighs Boosting Training for Syrian Rebels

US Weighs Boosting Training for Syrian Rebels
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US Weighs Boosting Training for Syrian Rebels

As debate continues over a possible U.S. strike against Syria, there's a push in Congress for the U.S. military to assume a role in training Syrian opposition fighters in neighboring Jordan.

U.S. training of Syrian rebels has been carried out covertly and on a small scale.

Now, some in Washington want to boost that support and throw the might of the U.S. military behind the training. Among those supporting overt assistance to the rebels is U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, who met with President Barack Obama at the White House.

"There seems to be emerging from this administration a pretty solid plan to upgrade the opposition, to get the regional players more involved. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, a lot of the Gulf Arab states have been helping quietly. Now is the time to get out front and be more overt," said Graham.

U.S. troops are already in Jordan, where they have a long history of training allied forces.

U.S. Military Assets - September 2, 2013
U.S. Military Assets - September 2, 2013
U.S. forces are poised to launch a limited strike to weaken Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but not remove him from power.

The top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, told lawmakers that looking beyond a limited strike, the U.S. military can train the Syrian opposition to defeat Assad forces and bring about his eventual departure.

“The path to the resolution of the Syrian conflict is through a developed, capable, moderate opposition. And we know how to do that," said Dempsey.

With debate still raging on whether the United States should get caught up in another Middle East conflict, Pentagon officials are careful not to discuss preparations for a broader training program for Syrian rebels.

Pentagon Spokesman George Little said, "At this point, given the current situation, I'm not going to get into the specifics of our planning. But we plan for just anything, as I've said before, and we continue to plan and consult with our partners in the region."

Rebels complain that the small weapons and other lethal aid promised by the U.S. has been slow to reach them.

Analyst Michael O'Hanlon said that's because U.S. officials must make sure the aid does not fall into the hands of extremists. "Twelve-hundred insurgent groups, which means you don't really know to whom you give these weapons and how to ensure their control thereafter. Therefore, that does raise the question of whether we should be trying to do more, not just to train, but to fashion an organization and a hierarchy."

Scenes like those of Syrian rebels preparing to execute captured Syrian soldiers highlight questions of whether helping the rebels is right. The video was shot in 2012 and made public recently by The New York Times.

The Obama administration must now decide whether it wants to continue to work through a covert and quiet means, or deepen its involvement.