WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is considering a plan to use U.S. military trainers to help increase the capabilities of the Syrian rebels, in a move that would greatly expand the current CIA training being done quietly in Jordan, U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Any training would take place outside Syria, and one possible location would be Jordan.
The officials said no decision had been made, but that discussions were going on at high levels of the government. It comes as the Obama administration prods Congress to authorize limited military strikes against the Syrian government in retaliation for a deadly Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack.
The proposal to use the U.S. military to train the rebels — something the administration has resisted through more than two years of civil war — would answer the demands of some lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, a leading Republican, to do more to train and equip the Syrian opposition.
The CIA has been training select groups of rebels in Jordan on the use of communications equipment and some weapons provided by Gulf states. The new discussions center on whether the U.S. military should take over the mission so that hundreds or thousands can be trained, rather than just dozens.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plan publicly.
Any new training program conducted by the U.S. military would take time to put in place and likely would not begin until after any potential military action had been taken regarding the chemical weapons attack. The Pentagon already has at least 1,000 troops in Jordan, including trainers working with Jordanian forces. The U.S. left about a dozen fighter jets and a Patriot missile battery there after a recent training exercise.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has told Congress that the U.S. military would be prepared to do more training for the Syria opposition if needed.