As the bloody Syrian conflict continues, a new report claims that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is expanding efforts to train rebel fighters.
The development comes as concerns abound over radical Islamists taking a bigger role in framing and guiding the opposition. All elements considered, officials reportedly fear that moderate rebels could be losing ground in their battle against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
While the CIA has already been making moves to train rebels, it seems the program has had its limitations. Even after the plan is enlarged, it may only produce a few hundred fighters each month, which may not be enough to combat the thousands of fighters emerging from more radical world views.
Here's how a new report in The Washington Post describes the difficult scenario on the ground:
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the agency has sent additional paramilitary teams to secret bases in Jordan in recent weeks in a push to double the number of rebel fighters getting CIA instruction and weapons before being sent back to Syria.
The agency has trained fewer than 1,000 rebel fighters this year, current and former U.S. officials said. By contrast, U.S. intelligence analysts estimate that more than 20,000 have been trained to fight for government-backed militias by Assad’s ally Iran and the Hezbollah militant network it sponsors.
An Islamist rebel fighter looks on as he holds weapons in the Salaheddin district of the war-battered northern Syrian city of Aleppo on October 2, 2013. At least 115,206 people have been killed in Syria's devastating 30-month conflict, most of them fighters from both sides, a monitoring group said on October 1. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
The CIA has declined to comment about the new-found plans, but an official told the outlet that the U.S. government is "ramping up and expanding its effort" after it has become clear that moderate rebels have been severely weakened by radical factions and ever-resilient Assad forces.
Under the CIA program, which is based in Jordan, moderate rebels are being given "basic infantry training" that generally spans a four-to-six week period. According to the Post, it is aimed at helping shore up support for the Supreme Military Council, an umbrella group that receives U.S. support.
Concerns over Islamist forces have expanded in recent weeks, despite U.S. proclamations that the vast majority of rebel fighters are moderates. Last month, TheBlaze provided an extensive overview of how the situation could impact Syrian Christians living in the war-torn country, explicitly highlighting the fact that radical Islamists have a presence in the region.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attends a Friends of the Syrian People meeting on the sidelines of the 68th United Nations General Assembly on September 26, 2013 in New York City. The U.N. Security Council agreed on a resolution that demands Syria's military forfeit its chemical weapons, though the resolution does not threaten military force if Syria does not comply. Meanwhile, numerous Syrian rebel groups fighting in the war have publicly denounced the opposition political leaders currently meeting other world leaders at the United Nations. Credit: Getty Images
Intelligence officials have estimated that only 20,000 of the 100,000 rebels are radicalized.
"I just don’t agree that a majority are Al Qaeda and the bad guys. That’s not true. There are about 70,000 to 100,000 oppositionists," Secretary of State John Kerry said back in September. “Maybe 15 percent to 25 percent might be in one group or another who are what we would deem to be bad guys.”
While these proportions may be accurate, experts have also claimed that the radicals are more organized than the more plentiful moderate forces. As the Post notes, last month, 11 of the largest fighter groups came together to form an alliance with one, key goal: Creating an Islamic state.
The report that the CIA is ramping up its efforts will certainly lead some to look deeper at these claims.
(H/T: Washington Post)