The US Department of Defense (DoD) has announced plans to continue training and support for moderate Syrian rebels in their ongoing battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the defence officials believe that the local forces are the deciding factor in the fight against the extremist organisation, ‘and that has not changed.’
Cook said: "The secretary still believes that it’s important to provide support to those moderate Syrian forces. We’ve seen and the secretary’s been candid about what happened initially with the train and equip programme.
"We’ve learned lessons from that, (we) continue to learn lessons from that, and we’re going to continue moving forward with that programme."
To date, the US military personnel have trained only 54 Syrian fighters, and the group was ambushed and scattered by Al-Nusra fighters, a group affiliated with al-Qaida in late July.
Meanwhile, a second group of Syrians are currently undergoing training, while several thousand Syrians recommended for training are being vetted.
According to the press secretary, the officials are also exploring other means to augment the effectiveness of anti-ISIL fighters and boost the overall effectiveness of the fight against ISIL.
The Pentagon plans to train and equip more than 15,000 moderate Syrian opposition forces at sites in Jordan, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, over the next three years.
Involving 1,000 US soldiers, including trainers and support personnel, the training programme focuses on preparing the rebels to defend their own citizens and communities, and to help them work with opposition leaders toward a political solution in the country.
ISIL, which has gained control of a large territory in Iraq and Syria, is currently being targeted by a US-led coalition comprising several European and Nato member states.
Image: Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook briefs reporters at the Pentagon. Photo: courtesy of DoD / US Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz.