The Obama administration is abandoning efforts to train Syrian rebel forces to fight Islamic State militants, and switching to a strategy of “equipping and enabling” a select group of “vetted” opposition leaders and units.
“We will monitor the progress these groups make and provide them with air support as they take the fight to ISIL,” a Pentagon statement said. “This focus on equipping and enabling will allow us to reinforce the progress already made in countering ISIL in Syria.”
The statement acknowledged “challenges” in the original $500 million program to train and arm moderate Syrian forces in Syria. The program has produced only a handful of rebels who joined the fight against IS.
“I wasn’t happy with the early efforts of the program,” Carter said Friday. “So we have devised a number of different approaches.”
Carter said the work the United States has done with Kurdish forces in northern Syria is one example of an effective approach.
“That’s exactly the kind of example that we would like to pursue with other groups in other parts of Syria going forward,” Carter said.
No more recruiting
Citing a senior Defense Department official, The New York Times said there would no longer be any more recruiting of so-called moderate Syrian rebels to go through training programs in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.
Instead, the unnamed official said, a much smaller training center would be set up in Turkey, where a small group of “enablers,” mostly leaders of opposition groups, would be taught operational maneuvers like how to call in airstrikes.
“I remain convinced that a lasting defeat of ISIL in Syria will depend in part on the success of local, motivated, and capable ground forces,” Secretary Carter said in a statement issued by the Pentagon. “I believe the changes we are instituting today will, over time, increase the combat power of counter-ISIL forces in Syria and ultimately help our campaign achieve a lasting defeat of ISIL.”