Pentagon: New class of Syrian rebels has started training to fight ISIS

Pentagon: New class of Syrian rebels has started training to fight ISIS
© Getty Images

A new group of moderate Syrian rebels has begun training to fight against the Islamic State in Iraq in Syria (ISIS), a defense official said Friday. 

"We do have a second class that has started, but I don't have any additional details to provide at this time," U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. Pat Ryder told reporters. 

"I"m not going to provide any numbers today," he said, citing "operational security."  

ADVERTISEMENT

"I"m not going to talk about where they may or may not be in terms of the status of those forces at this point in time," he added. 

The program has come under heavy criticism by members of Congress for fielding too few forces and building up at such a slow pace. 

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Ash Carter revealed during a hearing that only 60 rebels had been trained, with the administration hoping to train 3,000 by the end of the year. 

Earlier this week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is a supporter of the plan, said Carter "rolled a grenade in the room" with the revelation that so few rebels have been trained. 

The program, approved last September and funded with $500 million in December by Congress, envisioned training 5,000 per year and 15,000 over three years. 

Ryder defended the low numbers and the "small classes" of about 60 each. 

"We are focused more on quality than on quantity," he said. "We believe the number of recruits will increase as the coalition learns how to better streamline its processes. 

"We think that success will breed success. We think that this program will continue to increase the numbers," he added. 

McCain and other lawmakers say the reason the numbers are so low is that it's hard to find recruits who are willing to target ISIS and not Syrian regime forces, as the U.S. program requires.  

Ryder said it was true that some of them only want to fight the regime but said other factors were whittling down the numbers. 

He said the administration has not yet decided how they would support the rebels while they're fighting, although they are able to communicate with coalition forces.  

"Those new Syrian forces when trained and when back in Syria will have the ability to communicate with the coalition," Ryder said. 

"The secretary has made it clear that we have an obligation to provide some type of support to those forces, and that's something that we are committed to doing, but what specifically that looks like, I don't have any details to provide right now," he said.