U.S. intelligence officers are secretly operating near Turkey's border with Syria, in an attempt to ensure that weapons meant for Syrian opposition groups do not end up in militias aligned with al-Qaida, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
According to the report, citing a U.S. official, a small group of CIA officials are stationed in southeast Turkey, where they regulate the influx of automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and anti-tank weapons to the various rebel factions.
Speaking to the New York Times, one Arab intelligence official said that clandestine American attempts were geared at collecting information on the various opposition groups, as well as "to make new sources and recruit people."
In addition, American officials and retired CIA operatives indicated that the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama was considering other ways of assisting the anti-Assad insurgency, such as satellite imagery and detailed intelligence on Syrian troop locations and movements.
More than 14,400 people, mainly civilians, have been killed since the revolt against President Bashar Assad erupted in March 2011, according to the opposition.
On Wednesday, opposition sources said that at least 47 people, including 28 soldiers, were killed in violence across Syria.
"The dead were 14 civilians mainly from the central provinces of Homs and Hama, five revolutionary fighters and 28 soldiers," Rami Abdel Rahman, the spokesman for the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told dpa.
He added that 20 of the Syrian troops were killed in clashes with rebels in the northwestern province of Latakia.
In Idlib, near the Syrian-Turkish border, five Syrian soldiers were killed when a car bomb exploded near their checkpoint, the U.K.-based organization said in a statement.
Meanwhile, three soldiers were killed in fighting with rebels in the town of Kernaz in Hama, it said.
Five rebels were killed in similar clashes that took place in Kurdish mountain area near the border with Turkey, Abdel Rahman said.
He added that the rebels had seized an unspecified number of military personnel along with their weapons.
In the central province of Homs, rebel fighters told dpa that Syrian troops were using helicopters in attacks on the al-Rastan and al-Kurssiar areas, setting several wheat fields ablaze.
Syrian troops also shelled areas in Hama, a central dissident province, opposition activists said.
The surge in violence came hours after the head of the UN observing mission in Syria told the UN Security Council that his team would remain in the country until a political solution was reached.
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