By NewsGram Staff Writer
US trained Syrian rebels have been fighting the Islamic State head on ever since the Obama administration came to power. But how much does the United States spend on training the force of 60 Syrian rebels who battle the Islamic State?
According to revelations made in Politico.com, about $4 million has been spent on each of the Syrian soldier.
“Congress had approved $500 million for training program last year, with a goal of training about 3,000 vetted Syrian rebels this year,” suggests the Congressional Research Service.
“About half of the $500 million has been obligated thus far, mostly on equipment required to train the Syrian fighters,” said a congressional aide who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Of the $500 million requested last year for the “train-and-equip” program, roughly half has been spent. The whopping amount provides fresh salvo for Republican critics of President Barack Obama’s strategy for dealing with ISIL, with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday blasting the Syria plan as “delusional.”
Earlier, the US Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Armed Services panel during a hearing that just 60 fighters had cleared the vetting process for the three-month-old Syria train-and-equip program, a number he conceded was much smaller than he had hoped.
Carter added that another 7000 soldiers were going through the screening process and also predicted during Tuesday’s hearing that more allied fighters will be vetted and trained.
Of the 7,000 volunteers for the train-and-equip program, more than 1,700 had completed the final screening phases “required prior to the commencement of training.”
The fact that the Obama administration has spent such a massive amount on a program that has yielded so few vetted fighters makes clear just how difficult it is to find “moderate” Syrian rebels who can make it through the stringent screening process.
Also, few fighters are willing to prioritize the fight against ISIL over the civil war against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“The administration is telling Syrians to forego fighting their greatest enemy, the Assad regime, which is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and meanwhile refusing to protect these fighters from the terror of Assad’s barrel bombs,” McCain said in a statement.
“That is why it is no small wonder that our train-and-equip program in Syria is so anaemic”, McCain added.
Administration officials are concerned about the aftermath if Assad were toppled without a political structure ready to replace him. But McCain and other Republicans say it’s imperative that the administration go after both the Syrian leader and ISIL.
Navy Capt. Jeff David said, “We expect the numbers of moderate Syrian opposition who we [have] in the training program to increase, but as we have said, the screening process is crucial to the program, and we will continue to err on the side of quality over quantity or speed.”
“As training progresses we are learning more about the opposition groups and building important relationships, which increases our ability to attract recruits and provides valuable intelligence for counter-ISIL operations”, David said.
Meanwhile, a separate, classified program to train Syrian rebels run by the CIA, reportedly to the tune of nearly $1 billion, has been underway for several years.