About 70 US-trained Syrian rebels have graduated from America’s much-criticized “train-and-equip” program and are fighting in Syria, military officials confirmed Monday.
AFP reported Sunday that the rebels had crossed from Turkey into northern Syria, where they were expected to fight Islamic State jihadists.
“With support from the coalition, the NSF (New Syrian Forces) will fight alongside vetted opposition forces and employ their training and equipment acquired through the T&E (train-and-equip) program to enhance the efforts of these larger units already in the fight,” the US Central Command said in a statement.
The statement noted that the fighters had re-entered Syria “complete with their weapons and equipment.”
Before the fresh batch of fighters, the US-led train-and-equip program had only managed to vet and train some 60 rebels to fight IS jihadists on the ground.
The $500 million program run out of Turkey has been fraught with problems.
Shortly after 54 fighters embedded with Division 30 in July, they suffered a devastating assault by Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, Al-Nusra Front.
On Wednesday, US General Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee that only “four or five” US-trained rebels were on the ground fighting in Syria.
The program, which had originally aimed to train around 5,400 vetted fighters a year for three years, has come under fire from US lawmakers.