US sending 400 troops to train Syria rebels this spring

The U.S. will send 400 troops to the Middle East to train moderate Syrian rebels this spring.

Pentagon spokesman Maj. James Briddle confirmed the planned deployment early Friday. The U.S. plan was first reported by the website Defense One late Thursday.

According to Defense One's report, White House officials have said that training could begin as early as this coming March. Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have already agreed to host the training. The report states that at least four training sites are being identified across those countries, and the current plan is to send about 100 troops and their support forces to each site.

"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 ISIL," a Defense official said in a statement.

The training cycle for the rebels reportedly is expected to last between six and eight weeks. The goal of the program is to train about 5,400 rebel soldiers to combat the Islamic State group each year for the next three years. Partners in the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes against Islamic State, or ISIS, are expected to contribute to the training effort.

Last month, President Obama signed into law a massive defense policy bill that endorsed his plan to fight Islamic State militants, including air strikes and training Iraqis and moderate Syrian rebels. The law authorized the training and equipping of moderate Syrian rebels battling the extremists for two years, and provided $5 billion to train Iraqis battling the militants who brutally rule large sections of the two countries.

It was not immediately clear which services would be providing the trainers.

U.S. troops have already begun deploying into Iraq to help train security forces to roll back gains made by ISIS last summer. President Obama has already authorized the deployment of up to 3,000 U.S. troops in that country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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