WASHINGTON –– America is to end its efforts to train new Syrian rebel forces, and says it will shift to providing equipment and weapons to existing forces.
Its US$500 million programme was heavily criticized after it emerged that United States-trained rebels had handed vehicles and ammunition over to extremists.
It emerged last month that only four or five of the fighters were in Syria.
The programme had aimed to train and equip 5,400 fighters this year and a further 15,000 in 2016. A senior administration official said the programme was being put on “pause” and could be restarted in future.
The programme had suffered from “significant challenges”, the official said, adding: “We had a very high bar in terms of recruiting.”
America will no longer vet every individual recruit but just the leaders of the groups they decide to work with.
Of the initial two groups sent into the country under the previous programme, the first was rounded up by Jabhat al-Nusra, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, in July. The second handed much of its equipment over to the same group in September, reportedly in exchange for safe passage.
Quoting an anonymous US Department of Defence source, the New York Times reported America would no longer recruit Syrian rebels to go through its training programmes in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.
Instead, it would establish a smaller training centre in Turkey, where “enablers” –– mostly leaders of opposition groups –– would be taught operational manoeuvres like how to call in air strikes, the newspaper said.
The failure of the programme underscores the wider problem of the inability to create large and effective moderate forces on the ground.
It will also have wider repercussions since the programme helped to coordinate support activities between
the Americans, the Gulf states, Turkey, and Jordan.
The risk now is that those countries may push on with more separate initiatives backing individual client
Washington was already limited in its ability to influence events on the ground. The failure of this initiative will reduce it even further. (BBC)