Pentagon enrolls ‘dozens’ of Syrian rebels in new training program after failed attempt
The US is training “dozens” of rebels to battle Islamic State in Syria, in the hope of fixing mistakes that swamped the Pentagon’s previous multimillion dollar effort, when most of the equipment and recruits were lost or ended up on the side of terrorists.
“Dozens of people are now being trained,” US Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the US-led coalition, confirmed to reporters. “It's still relatively small as we see if this works,” he said, while refusing to comment on the scale of the program.
Warren provided neither a definite figure for the number of individuals in training nor their location. Citing an unnamed source, Reuters reported that it had been taking place in Turkey, just as with America’s previous attempt to bolster the so-called moderate Syrian opposition .
“A training and equipping program that we are now doing that is based on the lessons that we learned from our ill-fated train and equip program of 2015,” Warren said.
The US previously failed in its an attempt to train and equip rebels, having to stop the program following a scandal, when it was revealed that one group of trainees had surrendered one quarter of its US-supplied weapons, ammunition, and vehicles to the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front in exchange for safe passage.
Originally, the Pentagon’s program was intended to graduate 3,000 well prepared New Syrian Forces fighters in 2015, and 5,000 annually afterwards, allegedly to combat Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
On that, the Department of Defense spent reportedly nearly $400 million, which equaled roughly $2 million per fighter - a figure that the Pentagon denied.
Now, Warren assured reporters, the US is learning from its mistakes, in particular, when it comes to training.
“What we learned is pulling a full unit off a line is problematic,” he said
Instead, the US command picks few individuals out of the unit, who they are now training and then plan to return to battlefields with “this new, increased capability.”
“For the price of training one, you've got three who are better, and maybe even more than that,” Warren said as he spoke of benefits of the “great training.”
“And then of course, there's an equipment piece, and again, the capability piece, right? That these guys are able to really be combat multipliers, because they've got the ability to assist with the -- with air power,” he added.
In case this training program fails, the US is ready to “shift again.”
“That allows us to bring significantly more fires into play in any of these skirmishes, battles, and firefights that are taking place throughout Syria,” Warren said as he spoke of benefits of having trained Syrian rebels.
According to the Colonel, those who the US trained “in the old program” are still operating on the Syrian battlefield and are “able to identify targets” for the American forces.
The Pentagon estimates that there are “between 20 and 25,000 enemy fighters on the ground”, which to its knowledge marks a decrease from last year.