WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2015 —
The first advance detachment of U.S. troops responsible for training moderate Syrian opposition forces will begin arriving in the U.S. Central Command area of operations in the next few days, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.
The detachment, numbering fewer than 100 troops, will begin establishing training sites for the moderate Syrian opposition at several sites in the region, Kirby told reporters during a regular Pentagon news briefing.
A second wave of several hundred trainers will deploy in the next few weeks, the admiral said.
Kirby noted that Army Major Gen. Michael Nagata, the commander of the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force, which is responsible for the train and equip mission, is confident that training of the opposition forces can begin in the early spring as long as things remain on track.
"So right now, signs are looking good," he said. "Things are moving in the right direction. But I want to stress what I said last week -- and it's still true today -- active recruiting has not taken place."
The recruiting and vetting process is expected to take three to five months, Kirby said, while the actual training itself will take six to eight months.
Initial discussions earlier this month in Turkey with opposition leaders have been productive, the admiral said, but there is still a lot of work to do.
"Coming away from Istanbul, General Nagata felt very optimistic that there would be a pool from which we could begin to recruit and to vet and to get into the training pipeline," Kirby said. "But even he is unable at this time to give an exact figure on how big that pool will be."
"We've said, though, we know how to do this and we're not going to do it just alone," he said. "We're going to do it with our interagency and international partners, people who know these groups."
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)