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U.S. special operations teams selected the trainees over the last year when the U.S. military set up regional supply lines to provide the rebels with nonlethal assistance, including uniforms, radios and medical aid.
The two-week courses include training with Russian-designed 14.5-millimeter anti-tank rifles, anti-tank missiles, as well as 23-millimeter anti-aircraft weapons, according to a rebel commander in the Syrian province of Dara who helps oversee weapons acquisitions and who asked his name not be used because the program is secret.
The rebels were promised enough armor-piercing anti-tank weapons and other arms to gain a military advantage over Assad’s better-equipped army and security forces, said the Dara commander.
But arms shipments from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, provided with assent from the Americans, took months to arrive and included less than the rebels had expected.
U.S. officials said the Obama administration and its allies may supply anti-tank weapons to help the rebels destroy armored vehicles used by Assad forces. They are less likely to provide portable anti-aircraft missiles, which the rebels say they need to eliminate Assad’s warplanes. U.S. officials fear those missiles would fall into the hands of the Al Nusra front, the largest of the Islamist militias in the rebel coalition, which the U.S. regards as an Al Qaeda ally.