Politics

Obama Admin Wants To Restart Failed Program Training Syrian Rebels

Amer Almohibany/AFP/Getty Images

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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The Pentagon wants to reboot a failed program designed to train Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State, even though this same $500 million dollar program had almost nothing to show for itself.

The goal was to train 5,000 fighters, but the first class of 54 melted and scattered after being attacked by the al-Nusra front, the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria. The second class of so-called moderate rebels handed over at least 25 percent of their U.S. military gear to al-Nusra.

Pentagon officials now say they’ve identified what elements of the program to tweak to make sure they don’t repeat the same mistakes, The Hill reports. That the program is restarting is not surprising, as the intent was only to implement a brief interlude or operational pause.

According to Gen. Lloyd Austin, a key feature of the switch will include a shorter training program and concentration on a much smaller and select number of fighters.

Lawmakers predictably are skeptical of the idea that any amount of reform is even possible.

“I think the train and equip program was so fundamentally broken that it likely can’t be salvaged,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy. “We, with an enormous amount of oversight and lots of U.S. personnel on the ground, still couldn’t stop the weapons from getting into the hands of the wrong people. I just don’t think anything has changed on that front.”

Congress gave the go-ahead for the $500 million Syrian train and equip program in 2014. Officials suspended the program in 2015, due to abysmal results.

Despite voiced opposition from legislators, it is unclear whether any will try and block the program’s reboot, especially since a previous attempt failed miserably. GOP Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, said he doesn’t back any effort to stop the program.

However, legislators do want to ensure rebels are allowed to attack Syrian government forces in addition to ISIS forces. In fact, several rebels quit the program upon hearing that they couldn’t hit Syrian troops.

It’s no secret that many members of Congress don’t appreciate the compromise Secretary of State John Kerry made with the Russians, namely that the U.S. won’t seek regime change in Syria. Kerry has since modified his stance slightly, saying President Bashar al-Assad will have to vacate his office eventually.

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