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Pentagon begins training 90 Syrian rebels

Pentagon begins training 90 Syrian rebels
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The Pentagon announced Thursday that, after months of delay, it has begun “combat training” for moderate Syrian rebel fighters as part of its plan to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said about 90 rebels have started training and a second group would begin training in the next few weeks. The first group is training in Jordan, one of the four planned training sites, according to a report by The Associated Press. 

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Carter said the trainees would join the battle in “a few months.” They will be provided with small arms and small unit arms, he said. 

About 450 coalition trainers are involved in the effort, including 350 from the U.S. Carter said the U.S. has taken steps to guard against attacks by Syrian rebels against their trainers, he said. 

The U.S. will also provide the rebels with some compensation, Carter said, and they will have to follow international human rights law.

The training program was supposed to begin as early as March, but it was delayed as the U.S. and allies in the region put volunteers through a careful screening process. 

The program was also supposed to train 5,000 fighters per year, but so far only about 3,700 fighters have volunteered for the program, with about 400 ready to be trained. Carter said he expected the ranks to grow. 

Congress has authorized the program for three years. The White House asked for $500 million to fund it this year, and the House's 2016 defense policy bill would boost that to $600 million next year. 

Still, some members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, are skeptical of the program, which they fear could end up arming extremists. They also worry the rebels will be ineffective unless they have U.S. military support. 

Carter said the U.S. would have “some responsibility” to protect the rebels as they head into battle against ISIS, and if they face attacks by the Syrian government as well. 

That potential support would include help with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and possibly air support.  

“We have not decided yet in detail how we would exercise that responsibility, but we have acknowledged that we have that responsibility,” he said.