By Karen DeYoung,
The Obama administration is moving toward major changes in its military train-and-equip program for the Syrian opposition after the acknowledged failure of efforts to create a new force of rebel fighters to combat the Islamic State there.
In comments that appeared to shock even many of those involved in Syria policy elsewhere in the government, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of the U.S. Central Command, told Congress on Wednesday that only “four or five” trainees from the program, a $500 million plan officially launched in December to prepare as many as 5,400 fighters this year, have ended up “in the fight” inside Syria.
The course correction would mark the first significant alteration in the Obama administration’s year-old strategy of defeating the militants with air power, along with training and supplies for indigenous forces fighting them on the ground. It comes as critics have drawn a direct line between Obama’s long-standing reluctance to more directly intervene in the fight and the growing flood of Syrian refugees fleeing to the West.
Defense officials who described the proposed changes said the yearly goal would be substantially lower, perhaps as few as 500. Rather than front-line forces, fighters would be trained as enablers and liaisons between U.S. forces outside the country — particularly those directing U.S. airstrikes — and groups such as Syrian Kurds and Sunni Arabs that the Pentagon thinks have been effective against the militants.
[U.S.-backed Syria rebels routed by al-Qaeda fighters]
Vetting rules would be eased to allow training for members of groups previously barred from training, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to describe the changes. Obama’s senior national security officials discussed the Syria situation in a principals meeting at the White House early this week.
Lawmakers responded to Austin’s description of overall progress against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq with near-universal skepticism, and they described the administration’s strategy of defeating the militants with air power, along with training and supplies for indigenous forces on the ground, as a failure. Sens. Timothy M. Kaine (D-Va.) and Angus King (I-Maine) declared themselves converts to the need to establish a U.S.-protected safe zone for refugees and opposition fighters inside Syria, a proposal the administration has repeatedly rejected.
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Administration searches for new approach to aiding rebels in Syria – Washington Post
By Karen DeYoung,