In a move that officials said was likely coming weeks ago, the Pentagon today announced that it is formally ending its $500 million “train and equip” program, which was meant to create a new, pro-US rebel faction, dubbed the New Syrian Forces (NSF).
The NSF program was a disastrous failure, with two “classes” of rebels sent to Syria, numbering around 125 in all, and accomplishing nothing. The first class was 54 people, and quickly routed by al-Qaeda, leaving “four or five” left in recent testimony to Congress.
Incredibly, that was probably less of a failure than the second class, which saw roughly 70 fighters show up in Syria from Turkey and more or less immediately give all their US-made weapons and vehicles to al-Qaeda. Adding to the confusion about “US-trained rebels,” the Pentagon insisted they’d never trained the second class leader.
When Congress initially funded the program, there was talk of creating a force of tens of thousands of fighters that would eventually take all of Syria. They kept lowering projections and eventually 20,000 troops in the first year became a goal of 500 troops in two years. They didn’t even make that goal, however, and they finally decided to just give up instead of lowering the figure yet again.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter appeared reluctant to totally admit failure, however, saying the US is still committed to training Syrian rebels. They’re just not saying how or making any specific plans right now.