Boehner: Syrian rebel effort 'isn't working'

Boehner: Syrian rebel effort 'isn't working'
© Francis Rivera

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner says it's Democrats' turn for a Tea Party movement House Republicans find silver lining in minority Alaskan becomes longest serving Republican in House history MORE (R-Ohio) said Wednesday the disclosure that the Pentagon has only trained 60 Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) shows the administration’s plan to defeat the terror group is a bust.

“The initiative, which is the president’s — basically his anchor in the strategy — isn’t working. And the fact is, is that we need to recruit more fighters from Syria and we need to get them trained. That’s the sum total here,” he told reporters following a conference of GOP members.

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The revelation, made Tuesday by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, stunned lawmakers and rekindled GOP criticism that President Obama has no coherent strategy to eliminate ISIS.

BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerBoehner says it's Democrats' turn for a Tea Party movement House Republicans find silver lining in minority Alaskan becomes longest serving Republican in House history MORE said, however, the small figure doesn’t mean that the U.S. has to boost its ground presence in the region to counter ISIS.

“The first step is to get Syrians trained to fight ISIS,” he said, adding that an effort to train Iraqi security forces is ongoing. 

But, Boehner said, Iraqi soldiers need to a show a “little more engagement,” rather than just going through training exercises.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) called the figure “incredibly disappointing.”

He said the reason his panel called Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey to appear shortly before the July 4 recess was to have them “show us a path to success to degrade and destroy ISIS.”

“I don’t see it,” he told The Hill. “They didn’t offer it then, my impression is they didn’t really offer one yesterday. So it’s very discouraging.”

Thornberry conceded that there has been a big push "to thoroughly vet these people and that’s very difficult” for recruitment.