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Syrian rebel commander vows to fight ISIS militants

U.S. lawmakers have openly voiced doubts about whether the FSA is capable of taking on both ISIS militants and Syrian troops

Published: Updated:

The commander of moderate Syrian rebels pledged to fight to defeat Islamic militants in his country, speaking to U.S. lawmakers Thursday.

The U.S. administration is planning to boost training and equipment for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), set to be the cornerstone of the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants.

The U.S. will also boost its battle against ISIS in Iraq, where the aim is to slam the militants through air strikes.

But U.S. lawmakers have openly voiced doubts about whether the FSA is capable of taking on both ISIS militants and the well-equipped forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with U.S. forces increasingly stretched in the stalemated three-year conflict to oust Assad.

The Syrian Supreme Military Command's chief of staff, Brigadier General Abdel Ilah al-Bashir, told the House's foreign affairs committee he would stand by the U.S. to fight "twin" threats in Syria.

"I hereby reaffirm the Free Syria Army's continued commitment to removing the twin terrorists Bashar al-Assad and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from Syrian soil," he said in a statement, referring to the leader of the ISIS group.

ISIS militants have captured swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, and are seeking to impose an extreme form of Islamic law on a terrorized population.

"The heroes of the Free Syrian Army have sacrificed thousands of brave souls in the fight against the imposter Islamic state over the past year," Bashir wrote in his statement, read to the committee by leading Democratic member Eliot Engel.

"We fully plan to continue this fight until Baghdadi's complete and utter defeat," Bashir vowed.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the committee it was hard to give precise figures of the ranks of the moderate opposition, but stressed they were a "legitimate force."

"We now have tens of thousands of people who are, by the way, the principal bulwark against ISIL in Syria today," Kerry said, referring to the jihadists.

Pressed for details on exactly who the U.S. intended to arm, Kerry referred to a "conglomerate of armed groups that were formed to defend local communities from regime attacks and it includes secular as well as some Islamists."

He said each group's size varied, with several thousand fighters in each organization.

"There are other groups, at least seven groups with somewhere between a couple of thousand and 4,000 fighters each," he told the lawmakers.

"But that's not all of the moderate forces by any means. And what's important is all of these forces have a solid record of fighting ISIL. They've been fighting ISIL."

The top U.S. diplomat also stressed the United States had no intention of working with Al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, which has been branded a terrorist organization by Washington.