The United States will discontinue its efforts to create a new, moderate rebel fighting force in Syria as part of the effort to “degrade and defeat” the Islamic State, the Pentagon said Friday.
Most analysts believe that this reflects a failure of the US’s current strategy in the region. That strategy—which focused on training new fighters—drew widespread criticism, particularly from Congress. In a statement to the media, Defense Secretary Ash Carter defended the change in policy by emphasizing the Administration’s continued commitment to relying on local forces to get the job done, saying, “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.”
During a brief press conference, Carter cited the work that US forces have done with rebels in northern Syria as an example of what they would like to pursue with other groups in other parts of Syria going forward:
More from WaPo:
The Pentagon will now provide equipment and weapons to vetted Syrian units “so that over time they can make a concerted push into territory still controlled by ISIL,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said. ISIL is another name for the Islamic State, which now controls a wide swath of Syria and Iraq.
“We will monitor the progress these groups make and provide them with air support as they take the fight to ISIL,” Cook said in a statement to reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter in Britain.
U.S. officials are hoping the move will help friendly Arab forces replicate the success that Syrian Kurdish fighters have had against the Islamic State in northern Syria, and eventually isolate the group in Raqqa, its de facto Syrian capital.
U.S. officials are also hoping the new effort will help allied forces secure parts of Syria’s border with Turkey and choke off the Islamic State’s supplies of fighters and weapons from the north.
Of note: sources in the Pentagon speaking under the condition of anonymity insist that the shift is not a complete abandonment of the current training regime; however, the failure of the program to produce workable results suggests that perhaps they should. Last week, one Syrian commander handed over equipment to militant extremists; other fighters trained in the original program have abandoned the mission, or been captured or killed.
This move comes amid growing tensions between the west and Russia. Yesterday officials aid that Russian missiles bound for targets in Syria crashed in Iran, causing damage and possibly wounding civilians.
Russia, of course, can always be counted upon to
take full responsibility for its actions deny everything:
The Russian Defense Ministry, however, took strong issue with the CNN report in a posting on Facebook Thursday.
“Unlike CNN, we don’t report quoting anonymous sources, but we show launches of our missiles and the targets they hit in real-time mode,” the statement reads, noting that Russian drones are operating in Syria around the clock, presumably monitoring operations.
It continues, “No matter how unpleasant and unexpected it is for our colleagues in the Pentagon and Langley, our strike yesterday with precision-guided weapons at ISIS infrastructure in Syria hit its targets.”
In response, one U.S. official familiar with the intelligence reports told CNN, “These are the people who told us there were no little green men in Crimea.”
The official was referring to Moscow’s denials that men wearing green fatigues and using Russian weapons to fight the Ukraine government — often dubbed “little green men” — were in fact Russian soldiers. Moscow later annexed Crimea.
Adding to the tension are confirmed reports that Iranian Brig. Gen Hossein Hamedani was killed by Islamic State militants while on an advisory mission to Syria.
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