WASHINGTON — With reports indicating that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad are gaining ground in that country's civil war, moderate Syrian rebels have told a visiting journalist that the United States is arranging their training in Qatar.
In a documentary to be aired tonight, the rebels describe their clandestine journey from the Syrian battlefield to meet with their American handlers in Turkey and then travel on to Qatar, where they say they received training in the use of sophisticated weapons and fighting techniques, including, one rebel said, "how to finish off soldiers still alive after an ambush."
The interviews are the latest evidence that after more than three years of warfare, the United States has stepped up the provision of lethal aid to the rebels. In recent months, at least five rebel units have posted videos showing their members firing U.S.-made TOW antitank missiles at Syrian positions. The weapons are believed to have come from Saudi Arabia, but experts on international arms transfers have told McClatchy Newspapers that they could not have been given to the rebels without the approval of the Obama administration.
The documentary, produced by Frontline for airing on PBS stations, features journalist Muhammad Ali, who has been following the Syrian civil war for the program. It shows Ali meeting with a seemingly moderate faction of the rebels, though the faction itself is not identified — apparently for fear of angering its American contacts.
The United States has declined to confirm any growing efforts to help the fighters. Neither the Pentagon nor the CIA would comment on Frontline's findings.