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Jordan reluctant to host expanded U.S. training program for Syrian rebels

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By Reuters
Saturday, July 12, 2014, 6:33 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Jordan, where the Central Intelligence Agency has been covertly training Syrian rebels for more than a year, is reluctant to host an expanded rebel instruction program, U.S. officials said.

Jordan's reticence, confirmed by four U.S. officials, is a potentially serious setback for President Obama's proposed $500 million initiative, announced in June, to train and arm moderate rebels fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and al-Qaida-linked groups.

It could signal a larger challenge in finding suitable nations willing to host the U.S.-led training at a time of heightened tensions across much of the Middle East.

Although officials have not made a formal request to the Jordanian government, the country was widely considered a top choice to host the training because of its close security relationship with Washington, proximity to neighboring Syria and pool of more than 600,000 Syrian refugees.

Officials and analysts said Jordan fears violent retaliation from Syria if its territory is used for overt training conducted by American military units.

“Jordan told the U.S., ‘No boots on the ground,' ” said one of the officials, who all requested anonymity because they were discussing sensitive military arrangements.

Other current and former officials described the Jordanian position as less ironclad, however, and said they hoped to persuade Jordan to participate in the program, which must be approved by Congress.

The Jordanian government, through its Washington embassy, declined requests for comment. A Jordanian official in Amman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was “premature to even suggest the kingdom has rejected any such plan that even the Americans have yet to flesh out.”

While there are other sites where the training could take place, including Turkey and gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, no agreements have been struck, American officials said. Turkey and the Saudis, too, have sensitivities about the presence of large numbers of American troops.

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