Levin: Pentagon to ‘speed up’ training of Syrian rebels

The Pentagon is accelerating plans to train and equip vetted Syrian rebel groups against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"I think it's on track. And they're going to try to speed it up, and I hope they can,” said Sen. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinSenator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy The Trumpification of the federal courts Global health is the last bastion of bipartisan foreign policy MORE (D-Mich.) on Tuesday. “I just heard they're going to try to speed it up. I haven't heard the details.”

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Levin said defense officials may brief lawmakers on their plan later this week.

The Pentagon later confirmed that Christine Wormuth, the Pentagon's Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, will brief the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on U.S. efforts against ISIS, where she may address the Syrian train and equip program. 

Congress in September approved a temporary Pentagon program to train and arm 5,000 moderate Syrian fighters. Defense officials said at the time it would take three to five months to vet rebel groups, and up to an additional eight to 10 months to complete training. 

However, officials have not yet started vetting the rebel groups and authority for the program is due to expire on Dec. 11. There is still no estimated start date.

"What we've said from the very beginning, that the long pole on the tent here was going to be the recruiting and vetting process, and that process hasn't begun yet," said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby on Nov. 7.

The 2015 defense policy bill is expected to include a new authorization for the program and pass before Congress the end of the lame duck session. 

Earlier this week, U.S. and Turkish officials met to discuss plans to train the rebels at a location in central Turkey and agreed on a site, according to Hurriyet Daily News. Around 2,000 fighters are slated to be trained beginning at the end of December, the report said. 

Moderate Syrian groups have criticized the U.S., arguing that the program is not moving fast enough. The groups are being targeted by Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s forces, while U.S. airstrikes focus on ISIS.

This post was updated at 3:04 p.m.