October 10, 2015 11:51:45 am
The US will halt its troubled USD 580 million programme to train Syrian rebels to combat Islamic State and instead provide arms directly to existing rebel units already engaged in the battle with the dreaded terrorist group, a top official has said.
“We have had significant challenges associated with our training-and-equip program related to the counter ISIL mission and we’ve been looking at ways to address those deficiencies,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said yesterday.
Under the new policy, the US would provide equipment packages and weapons to a select group of “vetted leaders and their units” in their fight against ISIL (also known as ISIS or IS), he said.
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“At the same time, we have seen opportunities emerge where we’ve been able to equip forces fighting ISIL on the ground in Syria and seen them make significant gains. So today’s announcement represents an ongoing process where we aim to learn from what works in our strategy and aim to make corrections where we see things that aren’t working,” he said.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said this was bound to happen.
“The complete and utter failure of this poorly conceived programme was predictable from the start which is why I spoke out strongly against it and opposed it when it came before Congress last year.
“The Administration had no defined objectives, no effective strategy and no way to ensure that these fighters and the weapons, ammunition and equipment we provided them would not end up in the hands of ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra and other extremist groups who are our enemy,” Gabbard alleged.
Rhodes, however, claimed that the US is not ending the Pentagon’s USD 580 million train-and-equip program that was initiated as part of the counter-ISIL effort last year.
“We are not ending that program. What we’re doing is we’re pausing the element that too fighters out of Syria and aimed to train them and then help them go back into the country.
“However, the program itself continues because a significant amount of resources dedicated to this program focus on the equipment that would be provided to opposition forces. We will be using that equipment in different ways by trying to get it more directly into the hands of people who are in the fight. So it’s an evolution in terms of how we apply those resources,” he said.
“We are also not ruling out any future training, but we are acknowledging a pause in the way in which we’ve approached the program and conducted the training out of the country to date. And this focus on building on what we’ve seen work, which is developing relationships with leaders and units, and being able to get them supplies and equipment as they are in the fight against ISIL,” Rhodes added.
Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Christine Wormuth said this is a different approach where the US would be vetting leaders as opposed to each individual fighter.
“What we’re talking about here is providing more basic kinds of equipment to these groups. And that’s one way we’ll ry to mitigate the risk that we aren’t looking at every single individual fighter.
“We have methods in place to be able to monitor that equipment. These were methods that we instigated with the original program. We work with these groups and continue to see what kind of progress they make, and continue to build confidence, we may be able to look at additional types of equipment. But initially, we are certainly not talking about some of the higher-end types of equipment that the gentleman referred to,” Wormuth added.
The announcement is seen as an acknowledgement of the failure of the Obama Administration to achieve its two primary goals in Syria to remove President Bashar al-Assad and defeat the Islamic State which controls large swathes of the country.
Last month, the Pentagon confirmed that a group of US-trained Syrian rebels had handed over arms and ammunition to Nusra Front reportedly in exchange for safe passage.
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