WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 (UPI) — The Obama administration is planning to end its $500 million program to train and equip Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State forces, citing the effort’s lack of results.
A formal announcement was expected Friday, but Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, in London to meet with Defense Minister Michael Fallon, said Friday, “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.”
In 2014, the U.S. military began training so-called moderate rebels opposing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to fight the Islamic State. The program’s goal was to prepare 15,000 combat soldiers within three years, but in September, U.S. Central Command Gen. Lloyd Austin revealed four or five rebels had been trained under the program.
As part of the scaledown, a small training center will be established in Turkey for “enablers” to learn tactics such as the calling in of airstrikes, a Pentagon official said.
Critics in Congress have been calling for an end to the earlier approach of training Syrian rebels. A group of senators sent a letter, to the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA saying the program only served to escalate the conflict in Syria.
“The Syria Train and Equip Program goes beyond simply being an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. As many of us initially warned, it is now aiding the very forces we aim to defeat,” read the letter, signed by Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Mike Lee, R-Utah.
The letter referred to a September incident in which U.S.-trained fighters surrendered one-quarter of their equipment to the Nusra Front, the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria.
The program to build an army of moderates from a patchwork of rebel groups in Syria, which began in late 2014, has been hampered by processing delays, confusion over its mission and an underestimation of the complexities of the Syrian civil war. President Barack Obama, at a press conference last week, admitted the program “has not worked the way it was supposed to.”