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US to overhaul Syria rebel training programme

The US says it plans to overhaul its much criticised programme to train moderate Syrian rebels battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, saying it would provide arms and equipment to established groups already fighting the ISIL group.

“I remain convinced that a lasting defeat of ISIL in Syria will depend in part on the success of local, motivated, and capable ground forces,” US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement on Friday.

“I believe the changes we are instituting today will, over time, increase the combat power of counter-ISIL forces in Syria and ultimately help our campaign achieve a lasting defeat of ISIL.”

The announcement marked the effective end to a short-lived multimillion-dollar programme to train and equip units of fighters at sites outside of Syria, after that programme’s disastrous launch this year fanned criticism of President Barack Obama’s war strategy.

“Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is now directing the Department of Defense to provide equipment packages and weapons to a select group of vetted leaders and their units so that over time they can make a concerted push into territory still controlled by ISIL,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Future training will be greatly scaled back, with the apparent US focus on providing weaponry to Kurdish, Arab and other rebel groups. The Pentagon did not name which groups would receive support.

Cook also said that the US would provide air support to rebels.

Reuters news agency reported Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth as saying that the Pentagon will provide “basic kinds of equipment” to leaders of the groups, not “higher end” arms like anti-tank rockets and manpads.

Wormuth defended the $500 million Pentagon programme that trained only 60 fighters, falling far short of the original goal of 5,400, Reuters reported.

“I don’t think at all this was a case of poor execution,” Wormuth said. “It was inherently a very, very complex mission.”

The CIA runs a separate, covert programme that began in 2013 to arm, fund and train a moderate opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad. US officials say that effort is having more success than the one run by the military, which only trained fighters willing to promise to take on the ISIL exclusively.

The change in focus comes at a time when the Obama administration is also grappling with a dramatic change to the landscape in Syria’s four-year civil war in the wake of Russian military intervention.

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Posted By Bobricky On 10:29 Fri, 09 Oct 2015

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