WASHINGTON - The United States is preparing plans to escalate the CIA’s role in arming and training to beleaguered Syrian insurgents seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad, a new report says.  Officials say the move is aimed at accelerating covert US support to “moderate” militant groups, while the Pentagon is preparing to establish its own training bases, The Washington Post reported on Saturday.

“We need a little more urgency in helping the moderates, and the agency was viewed as the best way to get that going fast,” an unnamed senior US official was quoted as saying. The prospect of expanding the program of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was discussed at a meeting of senior national security officials at the White House last week, according to the Post. The proposed buildup would expand the CIA’s clandestine activities that have grown significantly over the past year. The CIA has declined to comment on any aspect of its role in Syria. The spy agency now vets and trains about 400 insurgents fighting against the government of President Assad each month.Syria has been gripped by deadly violence since March 2011. Nearly 200,000 people have reportedly been killed and millions displaced on the conflict.

The United States and its regional allies - especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey - have been supporting the militants operating inside Syria since the beginning of the crisis.

The Obama administration has already outlined a $500 million programme to train and arm 5,000 “moderate” militants in Syria to fight against ISIL and the Assad government, but according to the Pentagon, the number would be something between 12,000 and 15,000.