U.S. gives Syrian rebels caught in bloody civil war against President Assad missile training in secret camps
- Free Syrian Army taught to use anti-aircraft missiles, military source claims
- Jordan denies rebel force is being helped in its deserts
- Revelations come as John Kerry attends international talks on civil war
PUBLISHED: 14:34 EST, 22 June 2013 | UPDATED: 14:35 EST, 22 June 2013
CIA operatives and U.S. special operations troops have been training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons since last year, it has been revealed.
Covert training bases were set up in Jordan and Turkey months before President Obama approved plans to arm the opposition fighting to oust Syria’s President Assad, U.S. officials and rebel leaders claim.
White House officials refused to comment on the Los Angeles Times revelations, but said the U.S. had increased its help to rebels.
‘We have stepped up our assistance, but I cannot inventory for you all the elements of that assistance,’ White House press Secretary Jay Carney said.
‘We have provided and will continue to provide substantial assistance to the Syrian opposition, as well as the Supreme Military Council.’
The Supreme Military Council represents more moderate rebel factions, including the Free Syrian Army.
The revelation comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Qatar for an international conference on backing the rebels.
A State Department official said the talks would include discussions on delivering military aid.
CIA and White House officials declined to comment on the secret training programs. Other U.S. officials confirmed the training, but disputed some of the specific details provided by rebel commanders.
Jordan’s prime minister, Abdullah Ensour, also denied the CIA and U.S. Special Forces were training rebels in his country.
‘There are no trainings for opposition forces in our territory. We only aid refugees who fled to Jordan,’ he said, according to AFP.
An American official, who did not want to be named, told the Los Angeles Times that Free Syrian Army rebels were being trained.
Although the number of rebels being helped is not known, in Jordan, the training involves 20 to 45 insurgents at a time, a rebel commander said.
He added that during the two-week course, rebels are shown how to fire anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft weapons.
The rebels were picked by U.S. special operations teams last year when supply lines were set up to provide uniforms, radios and medical aid.
‘Those from the CIA, we would sit and talk with them during breaks from training and afterward, they would try to get information on the situation inside Syria,’ the commander said.
Brigadier General Yahya Bittar, who defected as a fighter pilot from Assad’s air force last year and is now head of intelligence for the Free Syrian Army, said training has taken place in Jordan.
Between 80 and 100 rebels have been trained by the U.S, France and Jordan in the past month, he said, with rebels then returning to the battlefield.
The recent decision to supply arms and ammunition to the rebels this month raised hope that Washington will send heavier weaponry later.
Rebel groups have said that they lack the weapons needed to resolve the bloody conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people.
President Obama has resisted calls to get drawn into the civil war, and Washington fears Islamic militants could gain control of U.S. weapons.
The Obama administration may supply anti-tank weapons but it is unlikely that they will provide portable anti-aircraft missiles, which rebels say they need.
In Qatar, Mr Kerry said assistance would help change the balance on the battlefield.
It was his first meeting with his counterparts about aid to the Syrian rebels since it was announced that the U.S. would send lethal aid to the opposition, despite fears that weapons could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists in Syria.
That decision was based partly on a U.S. intelligence assessment that Assad had used chemical weapons, but Mr Kerry expressed deeper concerns about Iran and Hezbollah fighters, according to Yahoo.
The Secretary of State blamed President Assad for the deteriorating situation in Syria, adding that as the international community tried to hold a conference to create a transitional government, Assad invited Iranian and Hezbollah fighters to bolster his troops.