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US chose 400 militants to fight ISIL in Syria: Pentagon

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Foreign-sponsored militants stand on top of a pick-up mounted with a machine gun during fighting against the Syrian army in the village of Aziza, on the southern outskirts of Aleppo. (AFP file photo)

The US military has announced it has selected the first 400 "moderate" Syrian militants to be trained to battle against ISIL terrorists in the Arab country, with a target date set as early as September for them to join the fight.

The Pentagon said on Friday that US military and intelligence agencies are currently conducting background checks on these men, which is part of a US plan to train and equip more than 5,000 militants for Syria, where a four-year foreign-sponsored militancy has already left more than 215,000 people dead.

The background checks are expected to include fingerprints, retina scans as well as other biometric measurements to find out if any of the candidates are on terror watch lists.

“If all goes well, we expect they’ll be finished with training in late summer or early fall,” said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

US Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman

According to Warren, a pre-screening will be done lasting one week and that will be followed by deeper background checks lasting over six weeks.

The 400 militants, who have been “identified by name”, were chosen from among 2,200 and the US is currently “compiling big data” on them, he explained.

He noted that the 2,200 militants were recommended mainly by “tribal leaders and Free Syrian Army leaders we have been dealing with for some time,” referring to the foreign-backed insurgent group operating in Syria.

Militants from the so-called Free Syrian Army take their positions, close to a Syrian military base, near Azaz, Syria. (file photo)

The background probes for the other 1,800 will begin in the near future, he added.

The announcement was the first official statement about the US-led campaign to equip and train Syrians in fight against the ISIL terrorists four months after Congress approved a budget of $500 million on the program.

Warren said that over 350 American troops have arrived in Turkey and other neighboring countries in preparation for the training.

The United States plans to finish the training of 3,000 Syrians by the end of 2015 and an additional 5,000 by next April, he noted.

Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since March 2011. The United States and its regional allies - especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey - are supporting the militants operating inside the country.

The ISIL terrorists, who were initially trained by the CIA in Jordan in 2012 to destabilize the Syrian government, now control large parts of Syria and Iraq.

On February 19, Washington and Ankara inked an agreement to train and arm “moderate” militants in Syria.

Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu (right) and US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass (left) signed a deal to train and equip militants fighting in Syria on Thursday in Ankara.

The two sides said the militants will fight both the Syrian government and the ISIL terrorists.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said in February that Ankara hopes the training deal will strengthen the beleaguered militants fighting against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.


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