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U.S. giving moderate Syrian rebels capability to call in airstrikes

By Andrew V. Pestano
U.S. giving moderate Syrian rebels capability to call in airstrikes
A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq early in the morning of September 23, 2014, after conducting airstrikes in Syria. These aircraft were part of a large coalition strike package that was the first to strike ISIL targets in Syria. UPI/Matthew Bruch/USAF | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Moderate rebels in Syria will receive training and equipment that will allow them to call in airstrikes from American bombers.

The U.S. will provide Toyota Hi-Lux pickup trucks to some Syrian rebels that will be equipped with machine guns, GPS devices and radios. The rebels can use the radios to call in airstrikes carried out by American B-1B bombers, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Mortars and more sophisticated anti-tank weapons may be provided as well.

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The plan will be begin in March. It will be the first time that the U.S. has openly armed rebels following a covert CIA operation that began in 2013.

Recently, Kurdish troops in Syria took full control of the battleground city of Kobane away from Islamic State capture. Military officials said U.S. airstrikes called in by Kurdish fighters helped take the city out of IS control.

RELATED Syria would be willing to stop Aleppo airstrikes for six weeks, envoy says

But there is a difference between Kobane and the rest of the complex battlefield in Syria. In Kobane, Kurdish troops in Syria, also known as the People's Protection Unit or YPG, were many and more unified while fighting a single foe -- the Islamic State.

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Fragile alliances in the international U.S.-led coalition against IS could make bombing decisions difficult. It's unclear if the U.S. is willing or legally entitled to bomb Syrian regime targets.

The U.S. will be training moderate rebels who are fighting a two-front war against the Islamic State and the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

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Al-Assad recently announced he is willing to agree to a six-week suspension of government airstrikes on the city of Aleppo.

Aleppo, Syria's largest city, has been at the center of the country's civil war between government and rebel forces since fighting broke out in 2012.

Al-Assad also recently criticized the United States' "pipe dream" to train and arm moderate rebels, stating there's no such thing as "moderate" rebels, only militants of the Islamic State and al-Nustra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate.

RELATED Egypt, Libya drawn into Islamic State conflict

More than 200,000 people have died and three million displaced in the Syrian civil war, according to the United Nations.

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