Thursday, September 17, 2015 by usafeaturesmedia
(NationalSecurity.news) The top U.S. military commander for Middle East operations told a congressional panel last week that a $500 million program aimed at training Syrian fighters to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has produced just “four or five” fighters, NBC News reports.
Furthermore, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth told the Senate Armed Services Committee that there are only 100–200 fighters expected to attend three more courses to be trained, leaving the U.S. military to conduct a broad review of the program in a time of major sequestration-forced cuts to American personnel.
In his testimony, Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, said he believed that the number of fighters would rise over time. However, he admitted that the program was well behind schedule and that the Pentagon’s initial training targets won’t be met.
“The revelation sheds light on numbers that the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command have refused to provide the media for weeks, citing operational security,” NBC News reported.
Earlier this summer, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter confirmed to the media that the United States had begun training Syrian rebels to fight against ISIS. At the time, he called the effort a “critical and a complex part” of U.S. strategy to combat the terrorist army.
However, Carter would not say where those fighters were being trained, only that they were being trained to fight ISIS, not the government forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“These trainees are recruited, they’re vetted, and only then are they put into training,” he said. “So they’ve been in the program for quite a while.”
The program dovetails with what President Obama said a year ago – that building up Syrian rebels instead of relying on Syrian government forces was “the best counterweight” to ISIS militants.
But the program’s cost – and its lack of success – has rankled the administration’s critics, who point out that it comes at a time of shrinking U.S. forces and tightening training budgets.
Last week, a former Oklahoma lawmaker holding one of the top civilian posts at the Pentagon warned that the Army is “near breaking point” with the mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration.
Brad Carson, a Democrat who served from 2001 to 2005 and is now awaiting Senate confirmation to be appointed as General Counsel for the U.S. Department of the Army, told Stars and Stripes that the Army is at its lowest level since “before World War II,” and at a time of rising threats around the world, including an aggressive China and resurgent Russia.
“If sequestration holds, it’s possible the Army could be forced down to 420,000 (active duty soldiers),” he said.
“The Army’s near breaking point if you go that low, I think. Already we see the fact that people are demanding the Army do many missions — from West Africa and the Ebola crisis to now resurgent problems in Iraq, Syria. Russia of course posing a threat.”
“So the demand on the Army is not slackening at all, and at the same time, their numbers are falling,” he said.
In July, the Army announced it would cut 40,000 troops and lay off 17,000 civilian employees over the next two years.
Carson points out soldiers “are deploying more often,” and it comes at “a real cost to their readiness.”
“[W]hen they’re out in the field, they’re not training,” he said. “Across all the services — the Marine Corps the same — the personnel cuts have been deep. And if they go much deeper, they will become a matter of grave worry to us all.”