America will protect and support 'vetted' Syrian rebels, US official says

"It is clearly part of our plan, that not only we will train them, and we will equip them with the latest weapons systems, but we will also protect them when the time comes."

March 3, 2015 11:15
2 minute read.
Syrian rebels

Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime celebrate.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The United States will protect Syrian rebels it has vetted, a senior American official told AFP on Monday.

Speaking at an event held by a Washington think tank, the Atlantic Council, retired US General John Allen affirmed the White House's commitment to support armed forces belonging to the Syrian opposition that it has trained, equipped and considers trustworthy. Allen even suggested that American air-power would be deployed in order to provide specific rebel units with tactical support.

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Allen, who is US President Barack Obama's envoy to the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group, hinted that this support is part of the White House's wider approach to the ongoing conflict in Syria.

"It is clearly part of our plan, that not only we will train them, and we will equip them with the latest weapons systems, but we will also protect them when the time comes," Allen told AFP.  

"So it's important that you not believe that we would not support these fighters," he added.

While the retired general seems confident in Washington's recruitment efforts among reportedly more moderate rebel groups, the American administration has been in disagreement with other members of the coalition fighting the Islamic State group, which includes Britain, France as well as a number of Arab states such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Although the White House has elected to focus its strategic efforts against the self-styled caliphate, its partners have urged it to expand its campaign to include targeting the Assad regime in Damascus, a decision that Washington has not yet taken, preferring to use proxies instead of direct force.

However, General Allen's statements come in light of the dissolution of an important US backed rebel group. The Hazm Movement, a rebel faction that received American made anti-tank TOW missiles among other weapons, disbanded earlier this week due to increased pressure from the al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, with whom it had entered into several bouts of infighting that included kidnappings and executions. Overwhelmed by the better equipped and more hardline faction's capabilities, many member of the Hazm Movement joined the Shamiah Front, itself an Islamist rebel group based in Aleppo who tried to facilitate an agreement between the two groups.

Despite this set-back, Allen appeared optimistic regarding the morale and determination of rebels looking to fight the Islamic State group, saying that he was "pleasantly surprised at the numbers" of volunteers that had signed up to combat the jihadists.

According to sources in the US military, training for the volunteers, which number about 1,500, is scheduled to begin in four-to-six weeks and will take place in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Though only 100 have been vetted so far, the goal remains to train about 5,000 battle ready fighters in 2015 and approximately 15,000 combatants over the course of the next three years.

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