(AA) – The U.S. has begun to train a group of approximately 90 Syrian rebels, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter confirmed Thursday, saying that a second group will begin training in the coming weeks.
“We’re figuring out what the best training is, what the best initial deployment is,” Dempsey said at a joint press conference with outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. “We expect that to be successful and therefore to grow, but you have to start somewhere.”
It will take “a few months” to train each company of rebel forces before they can be redeployed to Syria, Carter said.
The forces are being trained to combat Daesh militants, according to Dempsey, but in Syria’s constantly changing battlefield they are likely to run up against a myriad of forces, including those of the Syrian government.
Once they return, Washington will defend the forces against Daesh, the defense chief said noting that the U.S. will also “have some responsibility” to protect them from Syrian government forces.
The Pentagon has yet to establish the rules under which U.S. forces will defend the nascent force, but Washington will provide the rebels with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assistance, and potentially air support as well, according to Carter.
“We have not decided yet in detail how we would exercise that responsibility, but we have acknowledged that we have that responsibility,” he said.
The announcement comes as opposition forces have made gains in northern Syria, capturing the longtime government stronghold of Idlib and increasing their hold in the northwest of the province.
“I do think that the regime’s momentum has been slowed, and therefore you can certainly from that take that I do believe the situation is trending less favorably for the regime,” Dempsey said.
He warned, however, that Syria’s humanitarian crisis could worsen should President Bashar al-Assad quickly fall from power.
“What it might mean for the nation of Syria is further instability were power to suddenly transfer precipitously, and it could mean an even increased humanitarian crisis,” he said.