Only 9 US-trained militants active in Syria, US military confirms
The US Central Command has confirmed that only 9 militants trained and armed under the Pentagon’s $500 million program are active in Syria and the rest have either deserted the program or fled the country.
Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for the Central Command, said on Friday that out of the 54 militants initially trained by the Pentagon, another 18 are “in Syria, but their whereabouts are unknown.”
An additional 14 militants have left the “train-and-equip program” to join a “parent opposition unit,” he stated.
Col. Ryder added that 11 more members of the unit, dubbed the New Syrian Force (NSF), have left the country after being attacked by a terrorist group and are yet to return to their posts.
Washington has refused to name the country (or countries) that the militants have escaped to.
According to US military officials, the NSF forces were targeted by militants affiliated with the al-Nusra Front terrorist group in July, a short while after their first deployment in Syria.
The attack left the NSF practically disbanded. The Takfiri group killed one of the US-trained militants and took another one captive.
The equipment used by the unaccounted-for militants fell into the hands of a “moderate” militant group that is also coordinating with the US, Ryder said.
Earlier, Central Command Commander Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III acknowledged that the Pentagon program has so far produced only “four or five” militants in Syria.
“The New Syrian Force program has gotten off to a slow start,” Gen. Austin admitted Wednesday in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The White House is considering a major overhaul of its strategy in Syria, looking for alternatives to prevent the training program from totally collapsing, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
Citing US defense officials, The Journal said that the Pentagon proposed a plan to replace the $500 million program with a more modest effort.
The proposal would focus on creating specially-trained militants empowered to direct US airstrikes, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The training program is believed to be conducted by US Special Forces in Turkey and Jordan and is separate from a similar CIA program.
At first, the Pentagon was set to train and arm some 5,400 militants a year as a proxy ground force in Syria purportedly to fight the Daesh (ISIL) terrorist group.
Administration officials have said that more than 100 militants are currently being trained, a figure still far from the original goal.