Report: Obama may OK training of Syrian rebels

President Obama may authorize the Central Intelligence Agency to begin offering military training to moderate rebels fighting in Syria's bloody civil war, according to a report Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal.

The president has not committed to the program, however, and the intelligence agency is still trying to iron out details on where the training program would be hosted and how militants would be vetted.

“As we have said from the beginning of the conflict in Syria, the Assad regime's brutality against its own people creates a conflict that feeds extremism," a senior administration official told The Hill. " We see Syria as a counter-terrorism challenge.

"We believe the right policy approach continues to be strengthening the moderate opposition, which offers an alternative to both the brutal Assad regime, and extremist elements within the opposition. We are constantly considering available options to combat the terrorist threat emanating from Syria and to facilitate an end to the crisis, but we do not have any announcements to make at this time.”

The move would represent a distinct escalation of U.S. efforts in Syria, where the Obama administration has been measured in its military support for the opposition coalition. The United States has been reluctant to offer stepped-up military assistance, including weapons like missile launchers, because of concerns of commingling between the moderate opposition and Islamist extremists.

Earlier this month, Obama met with opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba at the White House. The pair discussed work to transition to a new governing authority in the event Syrian leader Bashar Assad was removed, according to the White House.

At that time, White House press secretary Jay Carney sidestepped questions about U.S. aid to the rebels.

“We provide significant assistance, and we’re committed to building the capacity of the moderate opposition, including through the provision of assistance to vetted members of the moderate armed opposition,” Carney said. “But we’re also not going to catalogue or detail every single type of the assistance that we provide. But when we provide that assistance, we make sure that the recipients of it are vetted and that they are members of the moderate opposition.”

The administration appears concerned over a series of setbacks suffered by the opposition in its fight against Assad. Rebels in the central city of Homs abandoned their positions after striking a deal with the Assad regime, and U.N. envoy to Syria Lakdar Brahimi resigned after two years of attempting to strike a peace deal.

In total, the U.S. has provided some $287 million in nonlethal aid to support the moderate opposition.

--This report was updated at 4:01 p.m.