After considerable criticism, the Pentagon has announced it is ending its $500 million program to train and equip vetted moderate Syrian rebels to form a New Syrian Force to fight the Islamic State.
The U.S. is now planning to provide arms and equipment to select vetted groups and leaders in Syria already fighting the Islamic State. Secretary of State Ash Carter said:There were just two groups of trained rebels sent to Syria. The first group of 54 was quickly routed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. In recent testimony to the U.S. Congress CENTCOM commander General Lloyd Austin III testified that less than half a dozen U.S.-trained rebels were left in Syria. The fate of the second group of about 70 fighters was no better. As soon as the group entered Syria they handed their weapons over to the Nusra Front. Originally the plan was to have thousands of the U.S.-trained New Syrian Forces in Syria fighting the Islamic State. The U.S. policy failed to take into account the obvious fact that rebels of whatever stripe have as their first priority defeat of Assad rather than fighting the Islamic State. The only reason rebels fight the Islamic State is that IS attacks them. The U.S. bombing attacks also target Al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front that most rebels consider a key ally in the fight against Assad.Al Jazeera reporter Rosalind Jordan said reporters were told that the U.S. believes the fight against the Islamic State will last for years:
"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.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."
"What is notable is instead of training the moderate Syrian rebels who had wanted to take arms up against President Bashar al-Assad, the US is going to be providing basic military equipment and support to exisitng groups who have been fighting against ISIL for the better part of the year now. Obama administraion officials told reporters on Friday that this change will work but they also did caution that the fight against ISIL is going to take years and it will not be resolved in a matter of weeks or months."The extent of the program will apparently be scaled back with a new focus on providing weaponry to Kurdish and other rebel groups. Now with the Russians providing more equipment and air support for Assad, he may be able to improve his situation. The U.S. arming of the Kurds will not hurt Assad since long ago Assad decided to leave the Kurds alone, provided they did not attack his forces. Recently the Kurds applauded the Russian air strikes in Syria even though rebel groups attacking Assad other than the Islamic State were targets of the raids. The Kurds also asked the Russians to provide them with weapons.