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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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US Backed Fighters Say, ‘They Have Taken Position in Islamic State Enclave in Syria’

The enclave resembles an encampment, filled with stationary vehicles and rough shelters with blankets or tarpaulins that could be seen flapping in the wind during a lull in fighting as people walked among them

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Fire is seen during fighting in the Islamic State's final enclave, in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 17, 2019. VOA

U.S.-backed fighters said they had taken positions in Islamic State’s last enclave in eastern Syria and air strikes pounded the tiny patch of land beside the Euphrates River early on Monday, a Reuters journalist said.

Smoke rose over the tiny enclave as warplanes and artillery bombarded it. Another witness said the jihadists had earlier mounted a counter attack.

“Several positions captured and an ammunition storage has been blown up,” said Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, on Twitter late on Sunday.

The enclave resembles an encampment, filled with stationary vehicles and rough shelters with blankets or tarpaulins that could be seen flapping in the wind during a lull in fighting as people walked among them.

Backed by air power and special forces from a U.S.-led coalition, the SDF has pushed Islamic State from almost the entire northeastern corner of Syria, defeating it in Raqqa in 2017 and driving it to its last enclave at Baghouz last year.

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The Islamic State group’s last pocket of territory in Baghouz, Syria, as seen from a distance on Sunday, March 17, 2019. VOA

But while its defeat at Baghouz will end its control of populated land in the third of Syria and Iraq that it captured in 2014, the group will remain a threat, regional and Western officials say.

The SDF has waged a staggered assault on the enclave, pausing for long periods over recent weeks to allow surrendering fighters, their families and other civilians to pour out.

Since Jan. 9, more than 60,000 people have left the enclave, about half of them surrendering Islamic State supporters including some 5,000 fighters, the SDF said on Sunday.

People leaving the area have spoken of harsh conditions inside, under coalition bombardment and with supplies of food so scarce some resorted to eating grass.

Last month, the SDF said it had found a mass grave in an area it captured.

Still, many of those who left Baghouz have vowed their allegiance to the jihadist group, which last week put out a propaganda film from inside the enclave calling on its supporters to keep faith.

Suicide attacks on Friday targeted families of Islamic State fighters attempting to leave the enclave and surrender, killing six people, the SDF said.

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Late on Sunday, the Kurdish Ronahi TV station aired footage showing a renewed assault on the enclave, with fires seen to be raging inside and tracer fire and rockets zooming into the tiny area.

The SDF and the coalition say the Islamic State fighters inside Baghouz are among the group’s most hardened foreign fighters, though Western countries believe its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has left the area. (VOA)