Pentagon to overhaul its flawed Syrian training programme

Washington, Sep 8 (IANS) The Pentagon is considering an overhaul of its botched training programme for Syrian rebels against the extremist group the Islamic State (IS), a New York Times report said on Monday.

Citing US Defence Department officials, the report said the options include dropping larger number of US-trained fighters into safer areas and providing better intelligence and improving their combat skills.

Though all the plans are still under consideration, the shift in strategy came after the US training program ended up as a fiasco in July when the first round of 54 Syrian trainees were attacked by a Syrian militant group before they could engage in fighting against the IS.

After receiving the training overseas, about a dozen fighters returned to Syria to visit their families and were detained by the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the Times quoted a Syrian Army defector who joined the rebels as saying.

Then, a delegation sent for negotiation by the Syrian opposition group Division 30, from which the first round of 54 Syrian trainees came, were again captured by the Nusra Front.

The next day, the Nusra Front attacked Division 30’s base in northwestern Syria and the battle only ended when a US drone struck the Nusra fighters.

A handful of Division 30 fighters were killed in the crash, though the Times did not elaborate whether they were killed by the Nusra fighters or the US drone strike.

Though touted by the US President Barack Obama as a vital part of his counterterrorist strategy in Syria and Iraq, the 500-million-dollar train-and-equip program by the United States, which was announced in June, 2014, did not begin until this May.

Top US defence officials, including defence chief Ash Carter, had acknowledged that the training program offered to local moderate rebels fell far short of expectation as the shortage of qualified local trainees continued to plague US training effort.

The US training program in Syria planned to train 5,400 Syrian rebels each year for three years, and the Pentagon had already lowered its target to 3,000 Syrian trainees this year.

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