DOHA - At a desert base, Gulf state Qatar is covertly training moderate Syrian rebels with U.S. help to fight both President Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State and may include more overtly Islamist insurgent groups, sources close to the matter say.
The camp, south of the capital between Saudi Arabia's border and Al Udeid, the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East, is being used to train the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other moderate rebels, the sources said.
The sources said the effort had been running for nearly a year, although it was too small to have a significant impact on the battlefield, and some rebels complained of not being taught advanced techniques.
The training is in line with Qatar's self-image as a champion of Arab Spring uprisings and Doha has made no secret of its hatred of Assad.
Small groups of 12 to 20 fighters are identified in Syria and screened by the Central Intelligence Agency, the sources said. Once cleared of links with "terrorist" factions, they travel to Turkey and are then flown to Doha and driven to the base.