“The main problem thus far has been finding enough Syrian recruits untainted by extremist affiliations or disqualified by physical or other flaws.” And so currently there are under 100 men receiving this training. No one, however, is willing to examine the larger implications of this. The Pentagon is pouring money into this program anyway.
WASHINGTON: Fewer than 100 Syrian rebels are currently being trained by the U.S. military to fight ISIS, 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….
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 ISIS 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.
Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, the Central Command special operations commander who is heading the program, wants volunteers with more than a will to fight.
“We are trying to recruit and identify people who … can be counted on … to fight, to have the right mindset and ideology,” and at the same time be willing to make combating ISIS their first priority, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the House Armed Services Committee on June 17.
“It turns out to be very hard to identify people who meet both of those criteria,” Carter said.
Many Syrian rebel volunteers prefer to use their training to fight the government of President Bashar Assad, the original target of their revolution. While ISIS has been a brutal occupant of much of their country, the rebels see the extremists as fighting a parallel war.
The screening does not end with their preferred target. Dozens who were initially accepted have been sent home during training or quit because of revelations about their background or other problems, according to two senior U.S. defense officials. They were not authorized to discuss details and spoke on condition of anonymity….
The Pentagon announced in May that it had begun training 90 recruits in Jordan, but it has refused to give details. Defense officials, however, said last week that training also is underway in Turkey. Eventually it is to be expanded to bases in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Each trainee is receiving a U.S. stipend of between $250 and $400 a month, with the amount set by their skill level, performance and leadership role, said a Pentagon spokeswoman, Navy Cmdr. Elissa Smith.
The Pentagon also is wrestling with how to support those who complete the training and are sent back into Syria. Also, there are questions about how to avoid having their U.S.-supplied arms fall into the wrong hands inside Syria.…