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US to Change Syrian Rebels Training


A rebel fighter is seen aiming his weapon in the countryside near Aleppo, Syria.

A rebel fighter is seen aiming his weapon in the countryside near Aleppo, Syria.

The New York Times says United States defense officials are making plans to change the training of moderate Syrian rebels for fighting the Islamic State in Syria.

The newspaper says the officials acted after they discovered "significant shortcomings" in training and tactics.

At the same time, the United States has asked Greece to close its airspace to Russian supply flights to Syria. U.S. officials are concerned about an increased Russian military presence in Syria.

The New York Times says its report is based on information from four top U.S. Defense Department and Obama administration officials. The newspaper said the proposed changes followed an attack on 54 moderate Syrian rebels. All of them had completed the training program. The attackers reportedly belonged to the al-Nusra Front, the Syrian group allied with al-Qaida.

U.S. government documents said the rebels were not fully prepared for the raid. They also said the rebel force was too small in size, and lacked local support. They added that the attack took place on July 31, when many fighters were visiting relatives for the Muslim holiday of Eid.

U.S. officials are considering ways to get better results from the $500 million training program. One possibility is to increase the size of the rebel force. Another is to amend their deployments as a way to improve local support and intelligence. The training program is a project of U.S. Special Forces and trainers in Turkey and Jordan.

Thousands of Syrians requested the training. But only a percentage has been approved. The program has been in operation for a year.

Supporters say the program is falling short of the 5,000 trained fighters once predicted.

There is also growing U.S. concern about Russia's involvement in Syria. The United States has asked Greece to ban Russian supply flights in Greek airspace. The Greek foreign ministry says the request is being considered.

Media reports show the Russian activity may be part of a plan to increase the country’s support of the Syrian government, or as a part of a plan to fight the Islamic State. The New York Times reported that Russia has sent a military advance team to Syria. It said the Russian moves include the recent movement of portable housing for hundreds of people to a Syrian airfield. The newspaper said Russia also sent an air traffic control station there.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country is providing "serious" training and logistical support to the Syrian army. But, he added that it was "premature" to discuss possible direct Russian involvement in military operations against the Islamic State in Syria.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

VOA’s Victor Beattie reported on this story. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in this Story

shortcomings – n. failures or weaknesses

tactics – n. the activity or skill of organizing and moving soldiers and equipment in a military battle

portable – adj. easy to move around or transport

logisticaladj. related to things that must be done to plan and organize a complicated activity or event that involves many people

premature – adj. happening too soon or earlier than expected

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