The United States has found only 60 moderate Syrian fighters willing to fight the Islamic State, far less than its intended goal to train at least 5,400 fighters in the first year, Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
“I said the number 60, and I can look out at your faces and you have the same reaction I do, which is that that’s an awfully small number,” Carter told the committee.
Carter pointed out that the reason for the low number is the US’s strict vetting process to identify “moderate rebels”.
According to the Carter, “the fighters not only have to pass a counter-intelligence screening, but the Pentagon must also ensure that they are opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and that they are committed to fighting IS”.
“I wanted to tell the truth and I did tell the truth. We expect that number of Syrian fighters being trained to improve, but you deserve to know where things stand”, he added.
Carter pointed out the US has a similar struggle in Iraq.
“Some 3,550 American personnel at six locations across Iraq are working to build the capacity of Iraqi forces and advise and assist them. But that effort too is suffering from a lack of trainees”, Carter said.
“As of June 30, the coalition has received enough volunteers to train roughly 8,800 Iraqi Army soldiers and Peshmerga fighters, along with 2,000 counterterrorism service personnel. Another 4,000 are undergoing training” he added. “I’ve told Iraqi leaders that while the United States is open to supporting Iraq more than we already are, we must see a greater commitment from all parts of the Iraqi government,” Carter said.
However, Carter acknowledged that his country is facing the biggest crisis in Syria, saying “three months into our training and armament programme, the training is underway, and the Pentagon is currently vetting around 7,000 prospective recruits.
Committee Chairman Senator John McCain slammed President Barack Obama’s policy in its war against IS, saying “President Obama’s comments yesterday at the Pentagon reveal a disturbing degree of self-delusion”. “None of the so-called progress that the president cited suggests that we are on a path to success.”
“Our means and our current level of effort are not aligned with our ends. That suggests we are not winning, and when you are not winning in war, you are losing” he said.
“It’s not that we’re doing nothing. It’s that there is no compelling reason to believe that anything we are doing currently will be sufficient to achieve the president’s long-stated goal of degrading or ultimately destroying ISIL, either in the short term or the long term” he added.
Obama defended his administration’s strategy and again urged patience during a press briefing at the Pentagon on Monday, where he met with his national security team and received a briefing on the fight against Islamic State.
“This will not be quick,” Obama said. “This is a long-term campaign.”