US President Barack Obama has authorised the use of air power to defend a new US-backed group of fighters called the New Syrian Force if it is attacked by the Syrian regime or other groups, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
US officials said that the US decision to defend its few allies on the battlefield in Syria ended the debate over the American role in supporting the New Syrian force trained in Turkey.
The decision to defend the Pentagon-backed Syrian rebels raised the concerns of administration officials that it may cause a conflict with the Bashar al Assad government, which denounced the plan.
On Monday, Russia criticised US plans to provide, together with Turkey, air cover for the Syrian rebels. Russia said any support for the rivals of Russian ally Syrian President Assad would hamper Damascus' fight against ISIS.
"Moscow has stressed multiple times that helping Syrian opposition, let alone helping with financial or [military] technical means, would lead to a further destabilisation of the situation in the country."
Fifty-four Syrian opposition fighters returned to Syria in July after they completed their training in the US-Turkey programme.
On Wednesday last week local sources reported that a group of 20 fighters, known as “Division 30,” including opposition fighters jointly trained by the US and Turkey and sent to region, were disarmed and captured by the Al Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front.
The Free Syrian Army is trying to persuade the Nusra Front to release the group, according to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency.
On May 25, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu announced that Turkey and the US had officially started a joint programme to train and equip Syrian opposition fighters
Up to 1,000 US troops will participate in the training of Syrian opposition forces according to an agreement signed by the US and Turkey on Feb. 17.
A US-led coalition has been targeting ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq since September 2014.
Earlier this year, Nusra Front positions were also reportedly targeted by coalition warplanes in the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib.
The Nusra Front was the reason for the demise of the US-backed Hazzm Movement earlier this year, after fighting between the two groups broke out in the northwest of Syria.
Dozens of rebels who joined the US-Turkey training programme later left because programme only had fighting ISIS in mind and not the Syrian regime and its leader Bashar al Assad. The actual number of Syrian rebels trained so far by the US in Turkey is around 60.
The training programme for the Syrian opposition started in Turkey in February but later stopped due to disagreements between Turkey and the US.
The US earlier announced that it was planning to train 15,000 opposition fighters in total over the course of three years and had already completed a pre-screening of 400 volunteers.
In a recent defence subcommittee budget hearing, two top US officials gave conflicting views on whether establishing a humanitarian safe zone on the Turkish-Syrian border was a viable option but neither seemed to think it was likely.
The US and Turkey announced earlier last week their intention to provide a safe zone for Syrian rebels and jointly fight ISIS militants, with US warplanes using bases in Turkey, mainly the Incirlik Air Base, to launch air strikes against the group.