(Reuters) – Britain will send around 75 military personnel to join a U.S.-led programme to train Syrian opposition forces to fight the hardline Islamic State group, Defence Minister Michael Fallon said on Thursday.
The programme will train and equip thousands of screened members of the opposition over the next three years to help them defend Syrian communities against Islamic State before eventually leading offensives, the statement said.
Islamic State has captured tracts of land across Syria and Iraq and is also being targeted by a U.S-led air strike campaign in both countries. In Syria it has advanced at the expense of mainstream rebel groups fighting government forces.
“ISIL must be defeated in both Iraq and Syria … defeating ISIL ultimately lies with local forces and we are helping to create effective ground forces in Syria, as well as in Iraq, so they can take the fight to ISIL,” Fallon said in a statement, using an acronym for Islamic State.
Fallon said the training, expected to begin in the next few weeks, would see British troops provide instruction in the use of small arms, infantry tactics and medical skills. It will take place in Turkey and other countries in the region which are part of the international coalition fighting Islamic State.
Britain will also be sending two Sentinel aircraft to the region to provide wider surveillance over Iraq.
Syria’s state news agency SANA reported on Fallon’s statement saying it showed Britain’s “commitment to supporting terrorism in Syria” through training and arms.
The Syrian government and state media describe all insurgents in the country as terrorists. The SANA report said Britain was “following in the footsteps of Washington” in supporting such groups. (Reporting by Kylie MacLellan in London, additional reporting by Sylvia Westall in Beirut; editing by Stephen Addison)