By Jeremy Herb
CIA operatives and U.S. special operations troops have been training Syrian rebels since late last year, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The training reportedly occurred months before the White House decided, last week, that it would provide military support to the Syrian opposition after determining President Bashar Assad’s forces used chemical weapons.
The White House has not indicated, however, if it will provide heavy weapons like anti-tank missiles to the rebels.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Friday would not say whether the U.S. was training Syrian rebels.
“We have stepped up our assistance but I cannot inventory for you all of the elements of that assistance,” Carney said.
He said that the administration would be consulting with Congress on its assistance to the Syrian opposition in the coming weeks and that the U.S. has already provided more humanitarian aid than any other nation.
The Times reports that the training and White House’s decision to provide more military support has raised hopes in the opposition that heavy weapons will be coming, which the rebels say is necessary to regain the offensive in the two-year civil war.
The report said that it could not be determined how many rebels were trained in the program, which involved members of the Free Syrian Army. The training involved 20 to 45 fighters at a time, according to a rebel commander, and began in Jordan last November.
The Obama administration is weighing what types of weapons to provide the opposition, but officials are concerned that anti-aircraft missiles could wind up in the hands of Islamist militant groups, which could in turn use them against the U.S.
In March, The Associated Press also reported that rebel groups were being trained by the United States. At the time, the Pentagon denied any military training was occurring.
— Jonathan Easley contributed to this report.