The number of U.S. troops expected to train Syrian opposition forces “could approach” 1,000, Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters today in a press briefing.
While the final number is still being worked out, training could begin as early as spring, Kirby said.
The deploying troops would include trainers as well as support personnel, and forces would range from special operations to conventional, Kirby said.
No orders have been cut yet but are expected in about four to six weeks and perhaps as early as next week, he added.
Training will take place at a variety of sites in the region with “significant contributions” from other nations, Kirby said. And while training is expected to take several months, Syrian forces could be ready by the end of the year to enter the fight in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant extremist group, Kirby said, adding, “It will take a lot of work.”
Training Syrian forces will have three goals, Kirby said: to get Syrian troops ready to defend their own citizens and communities, to eventually go on the defensive against ISIL inside Syria, and to help them work with political opposition leaders toward a political solution in Syria.
“Part of this training is to help them develop leadership on their own,” he said.
The Syrian opposition forces to be trained will be carefully chosen, Kirby noted. ”There will be a significant vetting program in place, multi-layered, and one that is implemented over the course of the training to make sure we’re dealing with individuals and units that are trustworthy,” he said.
Kirby emphasized the U.S. military “is very good” and experienced at vetting opposition forces and training them. Information and intelligence from the area and from partner nations in the region will play into the vetting process, he added.