Americans said to be training Syrian rebels in Jordan

Der Spiegel says 200 opposition fighters have been trained by uniformed US personnel; Washington declines to comment on report

Free Syrian Army fighters at Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib province, Syria. February 27, 2013 (photo credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Free Syrian Army fighters at Jabal al-Zaweya, in Idlib province, Syria. February 27, 2013 (photo credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Americans are involved in training Syrian rebels how to fight against regime soldiers, the German weekly Der Spiegel reported Sunday, citing participants in the program.

It is not clear if the Americans are members of the US armed forces or are part of a private contracting firm, but the trainers wear uniforms, the paper reported.

It added that the training, which also involves Jordanian intelligence officers, had been going on “for some time,” and that the rebels were being taught how to use anti-tank weaponry.

The US has refused to provide the rebels with arms and only last week approved an aid package that would supply opposition fighters with non-lethal aid, such as medical equipment. If true, the report would mark a major escalation in international involvement in the two-year-long civil war.

According to the German weekly, two training camps have been set up in Jordan for the fighters, 200 of whom have already been trained. Another 1,000 fighters are expected to be trained in the coming months.

The US declined to comment on the report.

On Saturday, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported that US forces in Jordan were leading a joint British-French team in training secular rebels as a bulwark against Islamic fighters.

The trained soldiers will form the backbone of about a dozen units stationed in Syria’s south — comprising some 10,000 rebels fighters, the German paper reported.

Opposition forces have been involved in a bloody two-year war attempting to oust the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, with some 70,000 casualties and over a million refugees due to the fighting, according to United Nations figures.

Rebels have made gains in some areas around the country, but have had trouble contending with better armed and trained regime forces.

Opposition leaders have made calls for supplies of arms from the West, but have had little luck making their case to countries skittish about pumping more weapons into the war-sundered region.

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