US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said on Tuesday only 60 Syrian rebels have been training to fight against ISIS so far.
Speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Carter admitted that the number is “much smaller” than than the target set by the administration.
“I said the number 60, and I can look out at your faces and you have the same reaction I do, which is that that's an awfully small number,” Carter said.
In the beginning of this year, the US announced a plan to train 5,000 Syrian rebels per year between 2015 and 2017 with the help of regional allies such as Turkey and Jordan.
Carter said the main reason behind the low number is the strict screening process that the rebels have to go through before training as the US army has been vetting about 7,000 rebels.
“We make sure that they, for example, aren't going to pose a green-on-blue threat to their trainers; that they don't have any history of atrocities,” the defense secretary said.
Carter’s comments came a day after US President Barack Obama visited Pentagon and said they will increase their efforts to defeat ISIS in Iraq.
Obama has said sending more US troops is not among the plans against ISIS which would not be sufficient without the efforts by the regional security forces, signalling no more troops will be sent to the region.
Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain (R-AZ) criticised Carter and Obama in the hearing for being delusional.
“There is no compelling reason to believe that anything we are doing currently will be sufficient to achieve the president's long-stated goal of degrading or ultimately destroying ISIL [ISIS], either in the short term or the long term,” McCain said.
Despite heavy air strikes from the US in cooperation with local ground forces such as Iraqi Army and various Syrian opposition groups in Iraq and Syria respectively, ISIS is still controlling a swath of territory larger than Britain extending from eastern Syria to northern and western Iraq.
The group controls major cities such as Raqqa in Syria, Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul, and Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province.