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Pentagon to alter Syrian rebel training program

October 9, 2015

The United States has announced changes to the program it instituted to train and equip select Syrian rebels. The moves comes as fighting in Syria has escalated.

Syrien Freie Syrische Armee Symbolbild US Training Rebellen
Image: Reuters/B. Khabieh

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter called for a "more strategic approach" to trying to defeat the terrorist group "Islamic State." The $500 million (441 million euro) program Washington had implemented in an effort to train and equip rebel groups to fight terrorists in Syria had been deemed a failure.

Carter expressed dissatisfaction with the program, which to date has produced just 80 soldiers, most of whom have proved to be ineffective fighters. Last week, one rebel unit turned over US equipment and weapons to a group of IS combatants.

"We have been looking for now several weeks at ways to improve that program," Carter told reporters. "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."

Looking ahead, the Pentagon will seek to embed rebel fighters with already existing Kurdish units. Carter specifically referenced the work the US military had done with those units as an effective model of how to move forward in tackling extremist militants.

"The work we've done with the Kurds in northern Syria is an example of an effective approach," he said. "That's exactly the kind of example that we would like to pursue with other groups in other parts of Syria going forward."

The new program will also focus on providing training and equipment to soldiers outside of Syria.

"Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is now directing the Department of Defense to provide equipment packages and weapons to a select group of vetted leaders and their units so that over time they can make a concerted push into territory still controlled by ISIL," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement, using an acronym for Islamic State.

The Pentagon's move comes as fighting has ramped up in Syria, with Russia launching air strikes starting in late September and IS making significant gains around Aleppo.

blc/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)