The Pentagon said Wednesday the US has identified 1,200 individuals to be vetted for a train and equip program to help Syrian opposition fighters in the campaign against Daesh.
American Special Operations Forces in the Middle East Commander Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata and his team have been working to identify and screen members of moderate Syrian opposition groups for the program.
"There's about 1,200 people Gen. Nagata and his team, with our interagency and international partners, have identified as potential for the whole Syria train and equip program," said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.
He added that the fighters have been selected from among different Syrian opposition groups.
Noting that 100 U.S. troops are already in the region working on preparations for the program, Kirby said when fully operational, 1,000 U.S. troops will participate, several hundred of which will take part in the training. The remainder will be deployed as force protection, intelligence support and enablers.
Opposition groups will be trained in basic military skills and organizational capabilities and will be provided with basic military gear, some mobility in the form of trucks and vehicles, small arms and ammunition, said Kiby.
The trained groups will be provided with communication gear to help in airstrikes but there is a long way to go before that point is reached, he said.
Kirby also clarified that the purpose of the training will be to help the opposition back and defend their communities rather than help to guide airstrikes.
He noted, however, that there has been no decision by coalition forces about air support to opposition members.
"This is an area that's actively under discussion,” he said. “Right now is what manner of support would we give to these trained opposition members when they go back into Syria.”
The training program will begin by March or April, Kirby said.
The effort to train Syrian opposition groups is part of an overall campaign to defeat Daesh militants who have seized large swaths of Syria and Iraq.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have agreed to help opposition groups not only fight Daesh but to also battle the regime of Bashar al Assad.
The U.S. is involved in a plan to train moderate rebels and to train and assist Iraqi security forces in order to beat back Daesh militants' rampage in both countries.
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