As a Syrian opposition leader revealed Tuesday that he has asked the United States for military help in fighting President Bashar Assad, a report by the Associated Press said the U.S. has been secretly training Syrian fighters for months in Jordan to take on Assad’s army.
At an Arab League summit meeting in Qatar, opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib said he had asked Secretary of State John Kerry “to extend the umbrella of the Patriot missiles to cover the Syrian north and he promised to study the subject,” according to a report by Reuters.
NATO already has Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries in NATO-member Turkey to help defend the country from potential airstrikes by Assad’s regime. Al-Khatib said the insurgents have few weapons to counter Assad’s helicopter gunships and warplanes. He said the United States should play a bigger role in helping end the two-year-old conflict in Syria.
Al-Khatib resigned as head of the Syrian National Coalition on Sunday, slamming the international community for its lack of help in Syria, where an estimated 70,000 Syrians have been killed in the two-year conflict and an estimated 3 million displaced.
But Pentagon spokesman George Little denied the AP report.
“Let me be very clear. The United States military is not conducting training of the Syrian opposition,” Little said. “We are working closely with our Jordanian partners on training. But no element of the United States military is involved in training Syrian opposition groups.”
According to CBS News, Little would not say what type of training is being conducted with the Jordanian military. Little said the U.S. has been involved in joint planning with the Jordanians on a range of Syria contingencies, “but that is different from the U.S. military training the Syrian opposition.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations is reportedly withdrawing half of its staff from Syria after a shelling near their living quarters.
The Syrian opposition is infuriated that the West and Arab nations are not offering them more help in their fight against Assad. They say they cannot topple Assad without military hardware like anti-tank mines and anti-aircraft missiles.