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There Are 4 Big Issues With The Pentagon’s $500-Million, Anti-ISIS Training Program

U.S. military officials are beginning to train carefully-vetted Syrian rebels, the initial stages of a $500 million program to combat the Islamic State in Syria.

But delays, small numbers of approved fighters and unsuccessful past attempts all indicate the program could be ill-fated from the start. Here are four of the biggest issues with the strategy:

1) Vetting the rebels, ensuring volunteers aren’t extremists, is delaying the process. The White House announced the program last summer, Congress authorized funding in September and training was supposed to start in March. Instead, the year-long training began this week, so fighters won’t enter the battlefield until the summer of 2016, reports The Telegraph.

Meanwhile, the Syrian conflict has been raging for four years, leading to the deaths of more than 200,000 people.

2) The program is intended to train 5,000 fighters. Only 90 moderate rebels currently receive training, according to The Wall Street Journal. “And some officials worry the program will have trouble bringing in enough forces to change the battlefield dynamics,” writes WSJ’s Julian Barnes.

Some estimate the size of the Islamic State force maintaining the terror group’s territorial holdings in Syria to be 30,000- at minimum.

3) The force, still in its infancy, is intended to battle the Islamic State — not the Syrian regime. As Sen. John McCain pointed out, the U.S. hasn’t promised to protect the force against attacks by the Bashar al-Assad regime, known to launch indiscriminate aerial attacks on opponents and civilians alike. Oil drums or fuel tanks packed with explosives and metal scraps, known as barrel bombs, make up the majority of attacks.

“I don’t think it’s possible to recruit a young man to be trained in Jordan or Saudi Arabia or some place and go back in and tell him you’re not going to protect him from being barrel-bombed. It’s immoral,” said McCain, as reported by The Guardian.

4) The Pentagon’s program is unaffiliated with the Central Intelligence Agency’s strikingly similar, mostly unsuccessful plan. The CIA has been training Syrian rebels since mid-2013, initially fighting the Assad regime and later focusing on defeating the Islamic State.

The Hazzm movement, one of the groups trained by the CIA, collapsed after assaults by Jabhat al-Nusra, a group affiliated with al-Qaida. Fighters who went through the agency’s training either slipped into Islamist ranks, quit or went missing. “All sides now agree that the U.S.’s effort to aid moderate fighters battling the Assad regime has gone badly,” reported the WSJ earlier this year.

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