Only four or five U.S.-trained Syrian rebels from the first class of 54 in the Pentagon program are still fighting the Islamic State in the Middle East, the top U.S. military commander of Middle East operations said Wednesday.
NBC News reported that Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and admitted that the training program is behind schedule and will not hit its initial training goals.
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Austin’s comments Wednesday indicate that less than 10 percent of the first class of graduates from the Pentagon program continue to combat IS (also known as ISIL or ISIS). Many of the others no longer fighting have been killed or kidnapped by an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria.
The three subsequent classes currently receiving training in the Pentagon program will only produce 100-120 more moderate Syrian fighters, according to testimony Wednesday from undersecretary of defense for policy Christine Wormuth.
The military is reviewing the training program, for which Congress has approved $500 million in funding.
Austin also said Special Operations Forces are "engaged with YPG" Kurdish forces on the ground in Syria. However, Defense Department officials have said U.S. forces are advising Kurdish forces on command, control, and tactical operations and "are not engaged in any combat operations."
The top military commander also addressed the Pentagon inspector general’s investigation into allegations that CENTCOM officials altered intelligence estimates about the Islamic State.
Austin said that "appropriate action" would be taken if the investigation concludes that officials altered intelligence to give a more favorable impression of the U.S. campaign against IS in Iraq.