Obama Administration Ends $500M Syrian Rebel Training Program

Ashton Carter
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter / AP
• October 9, 2015 9:59 am


The Obama administration has shuttered the $500 million Pentagon program to arm and train Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State in an acknowledgement of its failure.

The program will be swapped with one that would involve establishing a significantly smaller center in Turkey where the United States will train members of opposition groups in how to call in airstrikes, according to officials.

The New York Times reported:

A senior Defense Department official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that there would no longer be any more recruiting of so-called moderate Syrian rebels to go through training programs in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. Instead, a much smaller training center would be set up in Turkey, where a small group of "enablers"–mostly leaders of opposition groups–would be taught operational maneuvers like how to call in airstrikes.

The Pentagon has been planning to overhaul the training program after Gen. Lloyd Austin, the the top military commander of Middle East operations, admitted that the program had produced only four or five U.S.-trained Syrian rebels still fighting the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL or ISIS) in the Middle East.

The Department of Defense originally had the goal of training as many as 5,400 Syrian troops in 2015 and 15,000 over the next three years when the program began last December. The U.S. Central Command has also acknowledged that some of the U.S.-armed Syrian rebels gave their equipment to the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, al Nusra.

"I wasn’t happy with the early efforts," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said of the program Friday at a news conference in London at the end of a five-day stay in Europe.

"So we have devised a number of different approaches," he added. "I think you’ll be hearing from President Obama very shortly."

Anonymous U.S. officials said that Obama approved of the end to the program during meetings with advisers last week.