Washington: A Syrian rebel force of 12,000 to 15,000 will be needed to defeat Islamic State militants in the country`s east, three times the number of fighters due to be trained by the United States, the top US military officer said Friday.
In offering the estimate, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said building up a viable rebel force on the ground would be a vital part of pushing back the IS group in Syria -- but warned it would take time and patience.
"We`ve had estimates anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 is what we believe they would need to recapture lost territory in eastern Syria," Dempsey told a news conference at the Pentagon.
But he said the current plan for 5,000 recruits to be trained and armed by American instructors was never intended to represent the total number of troops forming the "moderate" rebel forces.
"Five thousand has never been the end state...," he said.
It was the first time Washington had put a number on how big a rebel force might be required to push back the IS extremists in Syria.
The general said defeating the IS group would take more than air power and that "a ground component" was an important aspect of the US-led campaign.
"We believe the path to develop that is the Syrian moderate opposition," he said.
The general said he was "confident" the training effort would be successful but pleaded for patience.
"We have to do it right. Not fast," he said.
The US Congress last week approved a plan from President Barack Obama to train and equip up to 5,000 "moderate" rebel troops, and Saudi Arabia has offered to host the training.