US alters Syrian opposition train-equip programme

US program to train and equip Syrian opposition fighters amended and refocused on arming vetted groups fighting inside Syria

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter addresses a news conference during a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 8, 2015.

The US Department of Defense announced on Friday that the US military program to train and equip Syrian opposition fighters will be overhauled, amended and refocused.

"Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is now directing the Department of Defense to provide equipment packages and weapons to a select group of vetted leaders and their units so that over time they can make a concerted push into territory still controlled by ISIL [ISIS]," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.

However, the Pentagon denied an earlier report by the New York Times that the programme will be abandoned and the statement suggested a change of focus and strategy rather than a complete termination.

Previous reports from the New York Times suggested there would no longer be any more recruiting of rebels in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.

Speaking at a news conference in London on Friday, Carter said, "with respect to issue of training forces in Syria that will take the fight to ISIL on Syrian territory, that is an important ingredient of our counter-ISIL strategy and the United States remains committed to that."

Carter added the new strategy will be aimed at improving the existing programme because he "was not satisfied with the early efforts."

In early 2015, the US announced plans to train and equip 15,000 Syrian opposition fighters over the course of three years and was planning to raise at least 5,000 fighters until the end of this year.

However, the program came under harsh criticism after it failed to recruit enough fighters and the first group of trainees disbanded or were captured in Syria and another group forfeited their weapons and equipment to the Al Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front.

The Syrian opposition have recently been placed under renewed pressure as a result of the Russian airstrikes that have been targeting them for the past 10 days.

Russia started conducting air strikes in Syria immediately after authorisation was granted by the Russian parliament on Sept. 30 and initially claimed to be targeting ISIS militants.

However, reports from Syrian activists and opposition show that most of the areas hit by Russian air strikes are controlled by opposition groups fighting against Syrian regime forces.

ISIS took advantage of the security vacuum in both Iraq and Syria and now controls large swaths of lands in both countries. More recently, ISIS started taking advantage of Russian air strikes on the Syrian opposition and made unprecedented advances in Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

TRTWorld and agencies