Pentagon Pauses Syrian Rebel Training

The US has paused its effort to train moderate Syrian rebels, instead focusing on providing equipment and weapons to “vetted” rebel leaders, officials said Oct. 9. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement the shift will “increase the combat power of counter-ISIL forces.” The $500 million effort to train Syrian rebels has largely failed, training a small number of fighters, with some of them turning weapons over to al Qae?da-affiliated groups. “The previous program did not succeed, there’s no question about that,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said at a Military Reporters and Editors conference in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement the US will still provide air support as the Syrian rebels fight ISIL, but the direct training will be paused. Christine Wormuth, undersecretary of defense for policy, said in an Oct. 9 conference call that the move is to “build on what has worked.” The US will evaluate leaders of rebel groups, instead of individual fighters, to decide who can receive US assistance. The “pause” is not a final end to the training effort, but instead marks a necessary adjustment to focus on what does work in Syria, said Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, in the call. Smith said the US now will likely work with Kurdish forces and others in the region to defeat ISIS. “It’s going to be a long haul,” Smith said, noting that the Syrian president cannot be removed immediately because ISIS would likely step in to fill the power vacuum.