First U.S. troops head to Middle East to train Syrian opposition

By REUTERS
January 24, 2015 03:07

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the first group of about 100 US troops to head to the Middle East in the next few days to establish training sites for Syrian opposition fighters battling Islamic State militants, the Pentagon said on Friday.

Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the troops, mostly special operations forces, were authorized last week and would begin arriving in countries outside Syria in the coming days, with a subsequent wave of several hundred military trainers following in the weeks thereafter.

The US focus in the campaign against Islamic State has been mainly on Iraq, with the exception of a large number of air strikes to support Kurdish fighters trying to prevent the takeover of the Syrian town of Kobani near the Turkish border.

Kirby said on Friday that Kurdish forces now control about 70 percent of Kobani, which was seen a few months ago as being near collapse, with much of it in the hands of Islamic State.

He said the advanced element of US forces headed to establish training sites amounted to fewer than 100 troops.


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