WASHINGTON, December 10 (Sputnik) — The United States program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State (IS) in Syria will not begin until at least March of next year, the US special ambassador to fight IS told the House Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.
“The program is to train 5000 [people] per year and the training, we hope, will start in March,” Brett McGurk said in response to a question, confirming that the soonest the forces could be sent to Syria would be March of 2016. “Part of the reason is the vetting standards and we are being very careful about this.”
McGurk said arming and training moderate Syrian forces is only a small part of the US strategy against IS, which is focused first on supporting the Iraqi government. The moderate Syrian forces will be used to fight IS in Syria and would not be able to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, he said. In Syria, McGurk said the US objective is to secure a political solution that would see Assad step down.
The Islamic State (IS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), crossed from Syria in June, taking over large territories in Iraq. In August, the United States started conducting airstrikes against IS positions in Iraq. In September, attacks by the United States and its allies were extended to Syria.
The US and anti-IS coalition have struck IS targets with 1219 airstrikes, 689 in Iraq and 530 in Syria, McGurk confirmed.
In September, the US Congress temporarily authorized US President Barack Obama’s plan to arm, equip and train moderate Syrian rebels to fight against IS in Syria.