The Pentagon plans to overhaul its effort to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State, an effective acknowledgement by the Obama administration that the $500 million training program has not worked.
The news comes just one day after the top military commander of Middle East operations admitted that only four or five U.S.-trained Syrian rebels from the first class of 54 in the program are still fighting IS (also known as ISIL or ISIS) in the Middle East.
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The Associated Press reported:
The Obama administration is … shifting from preparing rebels for frontline combat to a plan to embed them with established Kurdish and Arab forces in northeastern Syria, U.S. officials said. Instead of fighting the Islamic State in small units, the U.S.-trained rebels would be attached to larger existing Kurdish and Arab forces. They would be equipped with U.S. communications gear and trained to provide intelligence and to designate IS targets for airstrikes in coordination with U.S. troops outside of Syria, the officials said.
The new plan will focus on putting pressure on Raqqa, a city in Syria that the Islamic State has declared the capital of the area it currently holds that straddles the border of Syria and Iraq.
According to the anonymous officials, the Pentagon would also reduce its goal of U.S.-trained Syrian fighters from 5,400 to somewhere around 500 per year.
On Wednesday, Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon training program, for which Congress has approved $500 million in funding, is behind schedule and would not hit its initial training targets.