The Obama administration has ended the Pentagon’s failed $500 million program to train and equip so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), reports The New York Times (NYT).
“Pentagon officials announced the end of the program on Friday, as Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter left London after meetings with his British counterpart, Michael Fallon, about the continuing wars in Syria and Iraq,” noted The Times.
“I wasn’t happy with the early efforts. So we have devised a number of different approaches. I think you’ll be hearing from President Obama very shortly,” reportedly said Carter.
The Times learned from an anonymous senior defense official that Carter had misspoken and that President Obama would not be making any announcements. Instead, the White House is expected to issue a statement.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that the Pentagon is “scaling back” its training program, not ending it.
“The model before was we were training infantry-type units. We are now changing to a model that will produce more military combat capability,” an unnamed senior U.S. defense official told AFP.
Nevertheless, United Press International (UPI) notes that the Obama administration is expected to formally announce the end of the training effort on Friday.
The NYT article did acknowledge that a scaled down training program would replace the more ambitious effort originally launched by the Pentagon.
“Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is now directing the Department of Defense to provide equipment packages and weapons to a select group of vetted leaders and their units so that over time they can make a concerted push into territory still controlled by ISIL,” reportedly said the Pentagon in a statement. “We will monitor the progress these groups make and provide them with air support as they take the fight to ISIL.”
An anonymous senior U.S. defense official told The Times that the remaining training “will be much more minimal” than the original program that was launched by the Pentagon and that the training would focus only on the “vetting of key leaders of groups we’ve identified in Syria who are fighting ISIL.”
The results of the training effort have been denounced as a failure, with one group of trainees surrendering U.S.-provided ammunition and other equipment to the al Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.
In May, the Pentagon announced that it had begun training Syrian rebels to only fight ISIS, although the trainees also opposed the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
The program’s intended goal was to train15,000 combat soldiers within three years.
However, Gen. Lloyd Austin, the chief of U.S. Central Command, revealed in September that only four or five rebels had been trained under the $500 million program.