Islamist Syrian rebels (illustration)
Islamist Syrian rebels (illustration)Reuters

The Obama administration supports a plan to provide military training to the moderate Syrian opposition, an official said Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Dana Shell Smith, President Barack Obama's nominee to be ambassador to Qatar, made the comments at her Senate confirmation hearing. According to the report, she said that the administration supported language in a Senate defense bill that would allow such overt military training.

"It's my understanding that the administration does support the ... language in the (defense bill) to authorize training and equipment of the moderate opposition," Smith was quoted by Reuters as having said.

Smith, currently a State Department senior adviser, was responding to a question about language included in the National Defense Authorization Act making its way through the Senate that would allow an overt, “Title 10” military training program for the moderate Syrian opposition, led by U.S. Special Operations forces.

Over the last few weeks there has been increased speculation that the United States would indeed provide military training and perhaps even weapons to the moderate rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

Small-scale weapons aid and some military training has already been supplied to select rebel groups, along with "non-lethal" aid such as medical supplies and other equipment, but both Congressional caution and a hesitant White House have prevented anything further, mainly due to fear that the jihadist rebel groups would get their hands on any weapons.

A leading Syrian opposition figure recently said that western states could send desperately-needed arms to rebel groups in Syria "within weeks" and a recent report indicated that Obama is close to authorizing a military-led mission to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight the regime and Al-Qaeda-linked groups.

Obama’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, hinted last week that the United States was sending weapons to the Syrian rebels, though she did not say so directly, saying only that Washington was offering both "lethal and non-lethal" aid to the moderate opposition.

In May, Syrian opposition chief Ahmad Jarba said that rebels fighting to oust Assad need "efficient weapons to face these attacks including air raids, so we can change the balance of power on the ground."

He later met with Secretary of State John Kerry, who said Washington supports the Syrian opposition but made no mention of the rebels' plea for heavy weapons to help end the war.