US general meets with Syrian rebels

A U.S. general met with moderate Syrian rebels and civilian leaders this week, the first high-level meetings between the Pentagon and opposition forces.

Army Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, Syria director for the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force, and Daniel Rubinstein, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria, met with the Syrian opposition on Monday and Tuesday in Istanbul according to U.S. Central Command (Centcom). 

{mosads}The Pentagon is preparing a program to train and equip about 5,000 members of the moderate Syrian opposition to target the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

“These meetings provided an important opportunity to introduce and discuss the U.S. train and equip program with members of the moderate political and armed opposition and to gain a better understanding of conditions on the ground in Syria,” Centcom said in a statement. 

“All participants recognized the need for continued focus on this important program and the need for further discussions,” they added. 

Congress approved the $500 million program in September, and extended it for two years in December. The plan would train groups of rebels in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. The program is expected to begin between March and May. 

Training would take eight to nine months, and rebels would not likely be ready to fight until late 2015 or early 2016. 

Separately, the CIA has reportedly trained several thousand rebels in Jordan.

Lawmakers have expressed concern that the train and equip program is not moving fast enough, and question whether the trained rebels will confront ISIS or their primary foe, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. 

Trained Syrian forces could provide the U.S. with on-the-ground spotters for air attacks. The U.S.-led coalition has been bombing ISIS targets in Syria since late September, and rebels complain that they have not been consulted.

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