Far from Impressive

Three months in?to the train and equip mission in Syria, the US is working to “screen and vet” about 7,000 volunteers, but only about 60 fighters are currently being trained, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. Carter repeatedly acknowledged the number “is not impressive” and is far below where he thought they would be at this time, but he said the rigorous vetting program is critical to preventing possible green on blue attacks and ensuring those trained meet US standards regarding the law of armed conflict. SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blasted the Syria program, which he called “anemic and struggling.” McCain said, “Given the poor numbers of recruited Syrian fighters thus far,” it’s unlikely the US will be able to train a few thousand by year’s end. “Even if the program achieves this goal, it is doubtful that it will make a strategic difference on the battlefield,” added McCain. In Iraq, some 3,550 American personnel are involved in the advise and assist mission at six locations throughout the country, said Carter. However, he acknowledged, “their training work has been slowed … by a lack of trainees.” As of June 30, about 8,800 Iraqi army and Peshmerga forces have been trained, in addition to some 2,000 CTS personnel, said Carter. In addition, there are another 4,000 soldiers, including 400 CTS personnel, currently in training. (More Troops to Iraq.)