Al Jazeera America & Kristina Wong / The Hill – 2015-07-08 23:33:51
US Admits It Has Trained Only 60 Syrians to Fight ISIL
Al Jazeera America
(July 7, 2015) — The US has only trained about 60 Syrian opposition fighters to battle the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), far below expectations, Defence Secretary Ash Carter has told Congress, citing rigorous vetting of recruits.
The programme, which launched in May in Jordan and Turkey, was designed to train as many as 5,400 fighters a year and seen as a test of President Barack Obama’s strategy of engaging local partners to combat ISIL fighters.
Carter’s acknowledgement on Tuesday of the low number of recruits will give ammunition to critics who say Obama’s strategy is too limited to have any influence on Syria’s conflict.
“Given the poor numbers of recruited and trained Syrian fighters thus far, I am doubtful we can achieve our goal of training a few thousand this year,” said Republican Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Some Syrian rebel leaders say the force the US is training risks sowing divisions and cannot succeed without directly targeting Syrian government forces, who are currently off-limits for US offensive operations.
Obama was briefed by his top military commanders at the Pentagon on Monday.
He said at a news conference later that “we will do more to train and equip the moderate opposition in Syria,” but did not offer details.
Carter told Congress the number of recruits would increase as the US learned how to better streamline vetting.
“We are also refining our curriculum, expanding our outreach to the moderate opposition, and incorporating lessons learned from the first training class,” Carter said.
Obama has yet to announce whether he will go beyond supplying and financing the proxy force, and protect them with US fighter jets if they clash with Assad’s forces.
The US is already conducting near daily air strikes against ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq.
Carter said he believed the Syrian recruits needed some US protection but said no decisions had been made on what assistance to provide.
US Army to ‘Cut 40,000 Soldiers’ over Next Two Years
Al Jazeera America
(July 8, 2015) — The US army plans to cut 40,000 soldiers from its ranks over the next two years that will affect both domestic and foreign posts, according to newspaper USA Today. The paper quoted a document it had obtained and said the cuts were being made to save money and it would go into effect this week.
At least 17,000 civilians working for the army will also be laid off, a defence official told AFP news agency, confirming the report in the newspaper. The cutbacks will affect virtually every army post at home and abroad, USA Today said.
Under the plan the army will have 450,000 soldiers at the end of the 2017 budget year, the paper said. It added that in 2013 the army argued in budgetary documents that going below 450,000 troops might mean it could not win a war. By comparison, the army swelled to 570,000 men and women during the peak of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the paper said.
Across-the-board government budget cuts are due to kick in in October and if Congress does not avert these the army will have to lay off another 30,000 soldiers on top of the 40,000, according to the document quoted by USA Today.
Obama Requests $500 Million to Train Syrian Rebels
Kristina Wong / The Hill
(June 26, 2014) — The White House is asking Congress for $500 million to train and equip vetted pro-Western Syrian opposition groups
The initiative to bolster moderate rebels comes as the administration is contemplating the next steps to fight the Sunni extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has established a foothold in both countries.
The request is part of a $1.5 billion Regional Stabilization Initiative to aid the moderate Syrian rebels and help neighboring countries weather the fallout from the three-year civil war. The initiative is included in the $58.6 billion the Pentagon is seeking in wartime funding for fiscal 2015.
If Congress approves the request, it would expand US efforts to aid opposition rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Currently the CIA runs those efforts, but the new funds would allow the Defense Department to take over, ramping up US support.
The request comes as ISIS has captured large areas of the two Mideast nations and threatens the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. Critics say the Obama administration failed to offer support to vetted Syrian rebel groups earlier, allowing the militant Sunni group to rise.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who has long-supported training and equipping moderate Syrian opposition forces, praised the initiative.
“In light of recent events in Iraq and Syria, this is appropriate spending,” Levin said Thursday.
“The request includes $500 million to train and equip vetted elements of the Syrian opposition, which closely matches language approved by a strong bipartisan majority on the Armed Services Committee during our consideration of the defense authorization bill,” he added.
According to the White House, the $1.5 billion in funds for stabilization would build up the capacity of the Syrian opposition and work to strengthen neighboring countries, including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, to “manage the spillover effects of the Syrian conflict,” such as refugee assistance.
The request also mirrors a proposal from Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“The Obama Administration’s new request to support moderate opposition groups in Syria shows that the United States is serious about taking on the dual threat of the Assad regime and extremist groups,” Engel said in a statement.
“Only by fighting both threats at the same time can we advance our interests in Syria,” he continued.
“A Syria without Assad is still possible, and we need to protect ourselves and our regional allies from the threat that ISIS poses,” Engel said. “It is not too late to help the moderate opposition. It is not too late to help Syrians build the future they deserve.”
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