In this Friday February 8, 2013, photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter sits behind an anti-aircraft weapon in Aleppo, Syria. (Photo: AP)
European media is reporting that Americans are joining with French and British forces in training anti-government Syrian rebels against President Bashar al-Assad, though it's not clear whether they represent private firms or their respective governments.
The U.K. Guardian writes:
Western training of Syrian rebels is under way in Jordan in an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition as a bulwark against Islamic extremism, and to begin building security forces to maintain order in the event of Bashar al-Assad's fall.
Jordanian security sources say the training effort is led by the US, but involves British and French instructors.
The UK Ministry of Defence denied any British soldiers were providing direct military training to the rebels, though a small number of personnel, including special forces teams, have been in the country training the Jordanian military.
But the Guardian has been told that UK intelligence teams are giving the rebels logistical and other advice in some form.
British officials have made it clear that they believe new EU rules have now given the UK the green light to start providing military training for rebel fighters with the aim of containing the spread of chaos and extremism in areas outside the Syrian regime's control.
According to European and Jordanian sources the western training in Jordan has been going on since last year and is focused on senior Syrian army officers who defected.
"As is normal, before any major decision is taken on this issue, the preparations are made so that when that decision is taken, everything is in place for it to go smoothly. That is what these groups [special forces] do. They go in in advance," a European diplomat said. [Emphasis added]
A Jordanian official explained for Der Spiegel, a German paper reporting on the same story: "The Jordanian intelligence services want to prevent Salafists (radical Islamists) crossing from their own country into Syria and then returning later to stir up trouble in Jordan itself."
Roughly 200 men have been trained over the past three months, the reports claim, and the plan is to work with some 1,200 members of the "Free Syrian Army."
More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict that began as a pro-democracy movement but quickly became a civil war. Roughly 1 million refugees have fled the fighting, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently promised $60 million in humanitarian aid on top of the $385 million already pledged by President Barack Obama.
Reuters reached out to the U.S. Defense Department for clarification, but it declined to comment on the report at this time. The French foreign ministry and Britain's foreign and defense ministries also had no comment.
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