WASHINGTON: Washington was forced Friday (Saturday in Manila) to admit the failure of its plan to create Syrian rebel units to fight the Islamic State, vowing instead to arm select local leaders.
White House and Pentagon officials insisted the “pause” in efforts to train Syrian fighters outside the country would allow them to re-focus their efforts elsewhere.
“We’ve had some significant challenges,” said Christine Wormuth, undersecretary of defense for policy.
“So we’re going to pause the training we’ve been doing where we’ve recruited specific individual fighters.”
But, as President Barack Obama’s Syria strategy stumbles from one setback to the next, the suspension of the $500 million train and equip effort was an embarrassment.
Obama’s Republican foes, like Texas Congressman Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, were quick to twist the knife.
“The administration has had a weak, inadequate policy in Syria and a weak, inadequate policy against ISIS,” he said as the news broke.
“Adjusting one program, even if it were successful, will not solve the problem.”
“Today, the Obama administration acknowledged what we have known for some time: the training of Syrian rebels is a failure,” declared Senator Deb Fischer.
Pentagon officials told reporters that instead of training rebel units, the US military would dole out weapons to favored commanders already on the ground.
The White House and Defense Secretary Ash Carter scrambled to portray this as a way to re-focus the strategy to increase pressure on the Islamic State.
“The model before was we were training infantry-type units,” a senior US defense official told Agence France-Presse.
“We are now changing to a model that will produce more military combat capability.”
The official declined to say how many leaders would be armed and trained, but noted the new effort would get under way “within days.”
Two small groups of US-trained fighters have crossed into Syria from training centers in Turkey or Jordan this year, but they did not last long.
The first broke up after coming under attack from the Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda franchise.