Washington: The US military will send more than 400 troops to train Syrian rebel forces as part of a long-planned effort to build up a moderate opposition to take on the Islamist State group, the Pentagon said Friday.
The training will take place Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar and is expected to start in the "early spring," said spokeswoman Commander Elissa Smith.
The Pentagon also planned to deploy an unspecified number of support troops or "enablers" to provide logistics, intelligence, communications and other assistance, Smith said.
"The goal for the train and equip program is to build the capabilities of the moderate Syrian fighters to defend the Syrian people; stabilize areas under opposition control; promote the conditions for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Syria; and empower trainees to go on the offensive" against the IS group, she said in an email.
The US Congress backed legislation last month to fund the training and equipping of Iraqi forces and moderate Syrian rebels.
But President Barack Obama, wary of having the US drawn into the multi-sided civil war in Syria, has been accused by some rebel groups, lawmakers and allies of moving too slowly to help the Syrian opposition.
The American troops will complement a small CIA training program that is already in place.
US intelligence agencies and foreign partners are working to identify potential recruits for the training program, who will then be vetted to ensure they have no ties to the IS group or other extremists, officials said.
"We`ve identified numerous groups that we believe are suitable for training based on our current understanding of the environment and we continue to evaluate the situation," Smith said.
The Pentagon hopes to train about 5,000 Syrian rebels a year, officials said.
US troops already have started training Iraqi government and Kurdish forces in the fight against the IS jihadists, with about 2,100 Americans deployed to Iraq.