Foreign Affairs, Issues, Terrorism

US training only 60 Syrian fighters to combat Isis, defense secretary says

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The Pentagon is currently training only 60 Syrian rebels to fight against Isis in the Middle East, it has emerged.

In testimony before the Senate armed services committee on Tuesday, US secretary of defense Ashton Carter revealed the United States government is currently only training 60 fighters, a number which he said was “much smaller than we hoped for”. In 2014 the Pentagon announced that it intended to train 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels a year over the next three years.

The Obama appointee did try to justify this low number by noting that there were 7,000 potential fighters currently being vetted by the United States. Carter noted the number of trainees was so small because of strict criteria being imposed. This included screening recruits to insure that they had no history of atrocities and willingness to campaign in a way that complies with laws of armed conflict.

Carter’s admission came in the midst of a bruising hearing at which Republican senators peppered the defense secretary and Martin Dempsey, the chair of the joint chiefs of staff, with tough questions about the Obama administration’s Middle East policy.

John McCain repeatedly pushed Carter on whether the administration had promised recruits that “we will defend them against Bashar Assad’s barrel bombs.” The defense secretary was evasive and insisted that the question of whether US-trained Syrian rebels would fight regime forces or only Isis would only be made when “we introduce fighters into the field”.

Presidential candidate Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also pushed the question of US strategy towards the Assad government. He asked Carter whether Obama would leave office before Assad did. The top cabinet official was left speechless in response.

The Syrian civil war is currently in its fourth year and Isis still occupies large swaths of Syria and Iraq.

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