WASHINGTON - The United States has started training Syrian rebels in a base in the Middle East, marking a significant step up in its support for the Syrian opposition, the New York Times reported Thursday.
The US for the first time will be offering armed groups nonlethal assistance and equipment that could help their military campaign.
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Senior administration officials did not disclose where the training is taking place or the size and scope of the mission.
Syrian rebels to receive aid from Uncle Sam (Photo: Reuters)
According to the newspaper, assistance to the opposition could include items like vehicles, communications equipment and night vision gear.
The US says there is no shortage of weapons in Syria and it will not provide arms to the opposition for fear they will fall into the wrong hands.
President Obama last year rejected a proposal by the CIA, the State Department and the Pentagon to arm a select cadre of rebels. American officials indicated Wednesday that the White House was still opposed to providing weapons.
Kerry to visit Rome, meet with Syrian opposition (Photo: AP)
Secretary of State John Kerry has landed in Rome and will meet with opposition leaders on Thursday. He is expected to raise the prospect of direct financial aid, though officials cautioned that the White House still had to sign off on all the elements.
At a meeting with the French foreign minister on Wednesday, Kerry said that " "It's very important that more of our assistance is getting to areas that have been liberated from the regime. "And that's not enough. We need to help the Syrian opposition council deliver basic services."
The US has provided millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan. Kerry is set to announce additional aid meant to advance plans for political reform.
The Syrians are demanding significant military aid and anything which could help them win decisive battles. In Paris, Kerry said that the US and the European Union are working on new ways to bring about Assad's fall.
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