During testimony Wednesday in front of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, General Lloyd J. Austin, commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) revealed less than five U.S.-trained Syrian rebels remain in combat.
The military had projected a ceiling of 5,000 anti-Assad rebels trained per year under the auspices of a $500 million aid package; however, the first class consisted of approximately 60 Syrian recruits and when several dozen clashed with the Nusra Front, the small force was demolished with numerous killed or captured and the remaining fleeing the battlefield.
When Senator Debra Fisher (R-Nebraska) inquired of the total number of fighters remaining, General Austin replied: “It’s a small number. The ones that are in the fight … we’re talking four or five.”
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth later admitted to the committee less than 120 Syrian recruits were currently undergoing training.
While being quizzed by the committee members Wormuth added the Pentagon was contemplating, among other alternatives being weighed, the insertion of U.S.-trained rebels into anti-Assad formations in northern Syria.
Senators Jeff Sessions (R-Al) and Committee Chairman, John McCain (R-Az) slammed the program as an utter failure. Sessions stated: “We have to acknowledge that this is a total failure. It’s just a failure.”
McCain, a fierce critic of the Obama Administration’s policy in Syria was similarly unforgiving:
“One year into this campaign, it seems impossible to assert that (Islamic State) is losing and that we are winning. And if you’re not winning in this kind of warfare, you are losing.”
$500 million to train “four or five” rebels?
What triggered the collapse in this training program is the lack of trust in the U.S., primarily a lack of faith their loyalty will be rewarded.
If the Pentagon is seriously re-examining current policy in face of this overpriced calamity, instead of attempting to train and direct rebels who may well revert into a terror cell of rogue barbarians after the conclusion of hostilities and become a liability in the Middle East, a more enlightened policy for the Obama Administration would be to couple with the Russians and mount a campaign against ISIS and anti-Assad guerrillas.
As distasteful as it may be to form an alliance with Assad and buoy his regime, relationships fraught with mistrust and secrecy are not unfamiliar to the U.S. Rather than merely inveigh against Assad, the U.S. should co-operate with Russian President Vladimir Putin and smash ISIS.
An uneasy alliance with Assad certainly will be a better alternative than half-hearted efforts to train Syrian rebels. Eventually, we may improve our relationship with Russia, Syria and areas in the region which have been inveterately hostile to the United States.
We need to stop imagining the Middle East and view it as it really is.
[Reuters] [Photo courtesy fmnews.theclassifiedplus.com]