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U.S., Turkey Reach Agreement To Train, Equip Some Syrian Rebels

The United States and Turkey have reached an agreement to train and equip "the moderate Syrian opposition," the U.S. Embassy in Turkey said on Thursday.

NPR's Tom Bowman reports that a defense official tells him Qatar, Jordan and Saudi Arabia will also be part of the effort, which is set to begin in March. The United States is expected to send hundreds of U.S. military trainers to the region.

Tom adds:

"The rebels will be vetted and screened under top-secret protocols. It includes doing biometrics (retina scan, finger prints, etc.) to make sure they don't pop up on any bad-guy databases. Also, one or two village elders have to vouch for them. They will come out of the refugee camps and the Syrian rebel leaders will handle this. Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, who is spearheading the overall training, has been meeting with Syrian rebel leaders in Istanbul, the U.S. base near Incirlik and elsewhere in Turkey to get this thing going."

A U.S. effort to train Syrian rebels has been talked about almost since the civil war began in the country in 2011.

Back in September 2014, in a moment of rare bipartisanship, Congress gave President Obama authority to arm and train the rebels.

The administration has moved slowly on the issue because some of the rebels inside of Syria — think about the self-declared Islamic State — are radical.

There's also another big question that came up just as the U.S. began a bombing campaign against the Islamic State: Does weakening the Islamic State with the bombing campaign and by training and potentially arming rebels fighting against them ultimately strengthen the regime of Bashar Assad? Here and Now took on that question last summer.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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