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U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter addresses a news conference in Brussels on Thursday. (Photo: Reuters)

Mission Failure Admission: US Abandons Program to Train Syrian Rebels

The program had been criticized from the beginning as 'either blatantly dishonest or dangerously delusional'

Deirdre Fulton

The U.S. Pentagon is expected to announce Friday that it will end its oft-criticized $500 million program to train and equip Syrian rebels, offering further evidence of the Obama administration's incoherent and failed strategy in Syria and beyond.

According to the New York Times, which broke the news, Pentagon officials will officially announce the end of the program on Friday, as Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter leaves London after meetings with his British counterpart, Defense Minister Michael Fallon, about the continuing wars in Syria and Iraq.

"A senior Defense Department official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that there would no longer be any more recruiting of so-called moderate Syrian rebels to go through training programs in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates," the Times reports. "Instead, a much smaller training center would be set up in Turkey, where a small group of 'enablers'— mostly leaders of opposition groups—would be taught operational maneuvers like how to call in airstrikes."

The program had been criticized from the beginning, with many charging that the strategy would merely lead to deeper chaos and regional instability—all while being based on mistaken assumptions.

"The proposition that there is a moderate Syrian opposition with enough military potential and—even more importantly—popular support inside Syria to overthrow the Assad government is a myth," foreign policy experts Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett wrote for Consortium News one year ago. "To claim in addition that these mythical moderate oppositionists can take on and defeat the Islamic State is either blatantly dishonest or dangerously delusional."

And just last month, journalist Robert Parry described the program as "an embarrassing failure, producing only about 50 fighters who then were quickly killed or captured by Al Qaeda’s Nusra and other jihadist groups, leaving only 'four or five' trainees from the program, according to Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, head of the U.S. Central Command which has responsibility for the Middle East."

As Common Dreams reported at the time, Central Command admitted in September that the U.S.-trained and armed rebels at the center of the policy had turned over at least a quarter of their American-issued equipment to the al Nusra Front, which is linked with al Qaeda.

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