Obama seeks $500m to train 'moderate' Syrian opposition

White House searches for effective alternatives to jihadist army active in Syria and Iraq

President Barack Obama
(Image credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

President Obama has proposed to increase American involvement in Syria's civil war, asking Congress to approve the release of $500m to support and train what he described as "moderate" Syrian opposition forces.

The National Security Council said that money requested by the government would "help defend the Syrian people, stabilise areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats, and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement".

At a speech at the West Point military academy last month, Obama pledged to step up support for opposition forces in Syria. The administration is anxious to find effective alternatives to "the jihadist army that has taken over vast swaths of Syria and Iraq for an Islamic state", The Guardian reports.

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The advance of Isis into neighbouring Iraq prompted Obama to take action, the BBC says.

Since the Syrian civil war began, an estimated 150,000 people have been killed and a million more displaced by fighting between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

"This funding request would build on the administration's longstanding efforts to empower the moderate Syrian opposition, both civilian and armed," the White House said.

The money will also "enable the Department of Defense to increase our support to vetted elements of the armed opposition". It may fund US military training for the Syrians in Jordan, where the US military already trains its Iraqi counterparts, the Guardian says.

Neither the Pentagon nor the State Department have released plans for how the money would be spent, the New York Times reports, and it is still unclear whether and when Congress will approve the request.

"There's not a lot of detail here," said Gordon Adams, a professor of foreign policy at American University. Congressional lawmakers, he added, are "going to immediately say, 'what's it for?'".

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