It seems that nothing but bad news keeps coming out of Syria, but perhaps as a silver lining in the beleaguered country, the Pentagon announced that the training of Syrian rebels could start in the spring, beginning a concerted effort from the West in the fight against ISIS in Syria.
The Pentagon said that the training of moderate Syrian rebels is part of the campaign against ISIS, reported Reuters. The Islamist militant group has taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria in efforts to establish an Islamic state, carrying out ruthlessly brutal acts on the population in the process.
The Pentagon Press Secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, said that the commander of U.S. special operations forces in the Middle East, Major General Michael Nagata, is currently engaged in discussions with Syrian opposition groups to identify individuals to train and equip. At a news conference, Kirby said:
I think if we continue to make the progress that we're making now, that we believe that we could start conducting some training of moderate opposition by early spring.
According to a Turkish official, the goal has been set for 15,000 Western-trained Syrian rebels over the course of three years. Training is due to be held in Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and could begin as early as March.
In his press statement, Kirby welcomed the Turkish official's announcement, adding that ISIS' progress has stalled, and that its militants have been on the defensive for several weeks now:
Whatever momentum they had been enjoying has been halted, has been blunted. That has stayed steady over the last couple of weeks. It's very much a contested environment, but what we don't see, what we haven't seen in the last several weeks has been any renewed offensive moves.
There are currently 3,000 American troops in Iraq, sent to "advise and assist" Iraqi and Kurdish forces in fighting ISIS. President Obama also authorized the "training and arming" of moderate Syrian rebels, a process that will prove tricky as the Syrian opposition — typically known as the Free Syrian Army — is an ever-changing network of thousands of armed groups.
Kirby said U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, along with Iraqi and Kurdish movements on the ground, derailed ISIS' terrifying momentum, according to Reuters. While the Defense Department believed several hundred militants had been killed, he said the department was not equipped to track the casualties — and that that was not the U.S.' goal in fighting ISIS, adding:
The goal is to degrade and destroy their capabilities. We're not getting into an issue of body counts.
The U.S. is also set to start investigations on civilian casualties from the airstrikes in two separate incidents — a rather unexpected first, as the U.S. military has repeatedly rejected claims of civilian casualties before.