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US spends $4 million on each Syrian rebel fighting Islamic State

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Rebel fighters gather along a street in the town of Babolin in Idlib countryside after retaking it from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad April 4, 2014. Islamist rebels in Syria have retaken a northern town on the main north-south highway from President Bashar al-Assad's forces, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday. The monitoring group said rebels killed 18 soldiers and disabled two tanks in the fight for the town of Babolin, part of an offensive along a stretch of the highway which links Damascus to the northern city of Aleppo. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT) - RTR3JZ3Y
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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.

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Civilians Who Fled Afrin Suffer from Dire Humanitarian Conditions

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People sit in a truck with their belongings in the north east of Afrin, Syria, March 15, 2018. VOA

Thousands of civilians who fled the city of Afrin are enduring dire conditions after they reached Syrian-controlled areas south of the Afrin district.

“More than 2,000 people reached the towns of Nubl and Zahraa from Afrin in the past 24 hours, raising the number of total civilians in the two towns to 16,000. Many are suffering from tragic conditions,” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights website.

Turkish media announced the control of Afrin on Sunday, after the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) withdrew from the city and thousands of civilians were evacuated — 59 days after the launch of Operation Olive Branch, the Turkish military operation in Afrin.

ALSO READ: Refugees in India Looming For Basic Rights: Here Is Why India Needs Refugee Law!

The Observatory said Nubl and Zahraa were struggling to provide shelter and food for the large numbers of displaced people pouring into the towns.

Sumama Al-Ashkar, a journalist in Nubl and Zahraa, told VOA that people were residing in houses, mosques, schools, public halls and warehouses.

“The civilians in Nubl and Zahraa are able to get some aid and services, but those who went to Tal Rifat in northern Aleppo are struggling to survive,” he said.

ALSO READ: Gulf, West grapple with Syrian refugee crisis

The U.S. State Department issued a statement on Monday expressing deep concern about reports coming from the predominantly Kurdish city in the past 48 hours.

“It appears the majority of the population of the city … evacuated under threat of attack from Turkish military forces and Turkish-backed opposition forces. This adds to the already concerning humanitarian situation in the area, with United Nations agencies reporting a displaced population in or from Afrin district in the hundreds of thousands, who now require immediate shelter and other assistance to meet basic needs,” the statement said.

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Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army soldiers walk in city center of Afrin, northwestern Syria, March 18, 2018. VOA

Destruction and looting

A number of reports circulated in the media said Turkish-backed forces were destroying and looting public and private properties after they entered the city.

The Afrin media center said once the Turkish-backed fighters reached the town center, they destroyed a statue placed in the center of the city that represents Kurdish cultural figure Kawa the Ironsmith.

“Kawa the Ironsmith is a major historical symbol for the Kurdish people, as it is linked to the most important Middle Eastern holiday, the Nawruz,” Afrin Media Center said.

Footage coming from Afrin also showed Turkish-backed fighters pillaging homes, shops and military sites amidst chaos. They were seen carrying food, electronic devices, civilian cars, farmers’ tractors and livestock.

Members of the Syrian opposition condemned the looting and destruction of the city and called for holding the looters responsible for their acts.

The General Military Staff of the Syrian Interim Government, an alternative government of the Syrian opposition, issued a statement Monday calling for the Turkey-backed Syrian rebels to protect civilians and their properties, and to respect religious and ethnic installations in Afrin.

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Turkish soldiers, positioned in the city center of Afrin, northwestern Syria, March 19, 2018, a day after they took the control of the area. VOA

In a comment to CNN, Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, did not deny the reports of looting but said the actions were committed by some groups who disobeyed their commanders. He said reports were being investigated.

Guerilla war

On Sunday, Kurdish leader Saleh Muslim told ANF, the Kurdish News Agency, that the fight in Afrin entered a new phase, where the YPG and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) will continue to resist in the district.

Muslim added that the civilians had to leave the city for their own protection and vowed to step up the fight.

“The existence of civilians in the city will impose a challenge for our fighters. Our enemy kills civilians and strikes hospitals, and since the Turkish offensive started, civilians were targeted. Now, the war will continue in a different way after civilians left the city,” Muslim said.

A number of humanitarian organizations and civil society groups working north and east of Syria, including the Kurdish Red Crescent, issued a joint statement calling on the international community to act.

“We plea to the international community to intervene immediately to stop these attacks and let the refugees return to their homes, protect their possessions and civil rights, and deliver aid to thousands of people [who] fled this war,” the statement said Monday. VOA