Concerns, Questions Surround US Training for Syrian Rebels

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen questions the US training program for Syrian rebels. Credit: Roberto Koltun

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen questions the US training program for Syrian rebels. Credit: Roberto Koltun

Over four years into the Syrian civil war, and the United States still is working out a program to better train moderate Syrian rebels. The Hurriyet Daily News reported on May 11 that “technical reasons” are being cited as the delay of the arrival of US troops in Turkey planning to train the Syrian opposition forces, according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. The program was supposed to get underway on May 9.

The program is broader than Turkey, and without specifying the location, the Pentagon announced on May 7 that training for the first Syrian group had begun. The training is intended to target ISIS, according to US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, in comments posted to the Pentagon website. But delays in one location aren’t the only concern confronting the fledgling program.

The Syrian civil war has claimed more than 200,000 lives and involves multiple terrorist groups and the moderate rebels battling the Syrian regime and each other. In short, it’s an extremely complicated situation, and the training program is facing multiple challenges.

From the Turkish side, Çavuşoğlu said no degree of training will be enough for the program to reach its goals if safe zones inside Syria and a no-fly zone are not established to help protect the rebel forces. And Çavuşoğlu isn’t the only one questioning the program—so is a high-ranking US legislator.

In comments posted to her website at the end of April, US House Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen questioned the Syrian training program, warning it may be too little, too late.

Said Ros-Lehtinen, “Many questions remain about the Syrian train and equip program—the size and scope of the mission… by the time the program finishes it could be too late and the situation in the region could be worse.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, May 11, 2015)

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