Pelosi: Low number of Syrian recruits against ISIS 'surprising'

Pelosi: Low number of Syrian recruits against ISIS 'surprising'
© Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiPence to pitch trade deal during trip to Michigan: report Julián Castro: Trump should be impeached for trying to obstruct justice 'in very concrete ways' Swalwell on impeachment: 'We're on that road' after Mueller report MORE says she was surprised to learn the Defense Department has only trained 60 Syrian rebels to battle the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“It was I think a surprising number,” the California Democrat said Thursday during a press conference.

The admission by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter earlier this week that the $500 million effort had produced so few recruits stunned lawmakers and renewed GOP criticism that President Obama doesn’t have a serious strategy to defeat ISIS.

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House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other senior Republicans have pounced on the figure as evidence that the training effort, a cornerstone of the president’s plan to fight the terror group, isn’t working. 

Pelosi said that she understands the standards for vetting volunteers for the program are “high” to weed out potential threats.

“I say the outreach has to be stronger in order to train,” she added.

Pelosi said she appreciated Carter’s “candor” about the state of the effort.

The Democratic leader pointed to statements made by Bush administration officials during the height of the Iraq War, and said lawmakers were often told that “tens of thousands” of Iraqi forces were being trained “when it was a very small percentage of that.”

Shortly after Pelosi's comments, Boehner doubled-down on his criticism, calling Carter's admission "shocking."

He also noted that President Obama announced no changes in strategy against ISIS after he visited the Pentagon on Monday for a briefing from national security advisers.

"If nothing’s going to change, I don’t know how we ever expect to win," Boehner said at a press conference, pressing Obama to "lay out a broad, overarching strategy to defeat and destroy these savage terrorists."

Boehner laid out his vision for an "overarching strategy."

"We should give our commanders on the ground more flexibility, we need to combat ISIL’s use of social media, and we need to engage – not ignore – our longstanding allies," he said, using another name for the group.

“We only have one commander-in-chief at a time, however, it’s his responsibility to lead this fight against ISIL," Boehner added.

This story was updated at 12:42 p.m.