US trains Syrian rebels to take on Islamic State

WASHINGTON: The US military has begun training a small unit of “moderate” Syrian rebels in Jordan to return home and take on the might of the Islamic State, after months of intense vetting.

The long-delayed basic military training could eventually extend to similar programs in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, a US official said, and the rebels could be backed by American air support if required.

“There are about 90 of the trainees in this company-sized unit,” US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters at the Pentagon. “We expect a second group to begin training next week.”

The United States and its allies launched air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq in August last year and in Syria in September.

In Iraq, the coalition supports government and Kurdish forces in the fight against the extremists but in Syria it has fewer allies battling on the ground.

There have also been concerns that the rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad´s regime in Syria could become radicalized like the IS jihadists.

But Carter insisted the first group of trainees was made up of “highly vetted individuals” working at a secure location.

“They do receive some compensation as well as training and equipment and support,” he said.

“An explicit part of their training is how to conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with international law,” he added.

“Any continued support for them would be strongly conditioned upon their continued good conduct.”