British special forces set to resume training ‘democratic & moderate’ Syrian rebels
“Daesh are on the back foot. The RAF is already playing a leading role in the air, hitting them hard in Iraq and Syria,” Sir Michael Fallon said ahead of a Paris meeting of defense ministers from the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
“Now we’re stepping up our support to moderate opposition forces in Syria, through training them in the skills they need to defeat Daesh,” he added, The Telegraph reports.
The official announcement is expected to be made on Tuesday. The UK plans to deploy around 20 British personnel to instruct “vetted members” of the so-called moderate Syrian opposition in infantry battle tactics, battlefield medicine and explosive hazard awareness skills needed to fight the Islamic State.
To be clear on who exactly the UK will be training, Fallon specified that a moderate fighter is someone “prepared to live within a plural political settlement that can, in the end, be democratic and take Syria towards elections”.
Those willing to be trained by UK forces will be subject to “strict vetting procedures,” promising for recruits to be “security and medically screened” prior to the start of training.
The UK decision to deploy special forces came in response to a request from the Pentagon, UK media reported. Training of the Syrian rebels will be conducted under the Pentagon run Train and Equip Program which was briefly shut down last year.
The $500 million-a-year program meant to train a moderate force to defeat the terrorists was effectively canceled in October after fielding only about 100 trained fighters. The first batch of trained “moderates” was promptly attacked by hardline rebels upon crossing the border, and others disbanded or were killed in combat.
The new British team of less than two dozen men, according to defense sources who spoke with the Independent, will be based in al-Quweira in southwest Jordan and will be assisting units of the New Syrian Army (NSA), comprised of defectors from the Syrian armed forces.