Obama Is Spending $500 Million To Train Less Than 100 Syrian Rebels To Fight ISIS
WASHINGTON — Fewer than 100 Syrian rebels are being trained by the U.S. military to fight the Islamic State group, a tiny total for a sputtering program with a stated goal of producing 5,400 fighters a year.
The training effort is moving so slowly that critics question whether it can produce enough capable fighters quickly enough to make a difference. Military officials said last week that they still hope for 3,000 by year’s end. Privately, they acknowledge the trend is moving in the wrong direction.
On June 26, 2014, the White House said it was asking Congress for $500 million for a three-year train-and-equip program. It only got started in May, however.
That program, together with a more advanced but also troubled parallel effort to rebuild the Iraqi army, is central to the U.S.-led effort to create ground forces capable of fighting IS without involving U.S. ground combat troops.
The Syria initiative is seen more as a way of enabling moderate opposition forces to defend their own towns against the militants. Expectations for the Iraqis are much higher; the goal is to have them roll back IS and restore the Iraq-Syria border.
The main problem thus far has been finding enough Syrian recruits untainted by extremist affiliations or disqualified by physical or other flaws. Of approximately 6,000 volunteers, about 1,500 have passed muster and await movement to training camps in other countries. Citing security concerns, the Pentagon will not say exactly how many are in training. Officials said that as of Friday, the number was under 100 and that none has completed the program.
“We have set the bar very high on vetting,” said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.