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Administration: Syrian train and equip program not suspended

Administration: Syrian train and equip program not suspended
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The White House said Tuesday that the U.S. program to train and equip Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has not been suspended, contrary to some reports

"We have clearly faced challenges with the Train & Equip program, and we are currently reviewing our efforts to determine how we can do better," said Emily Horne, National Security Council spokesperson. 

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"We will continue our support for those forces on the ground while also continuing to refine and improve the Train & Equip program," she added. 

Reports the program had been suspended come after U.S. Central Command acknowledged Friday that some U.S.-backed rebels involved with the program had handed over a quarter of their equipment that was provided by the U.S. to al-Nusra Front, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria. 

The Pentagon also said the program is currently active, but is undergoing an internal review to determine what areas can be improved. 

"DOD [Department of Defense] is committed to supporting the New Syrian Forces," said Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Elissa Smith. 

"While it would be premature to speculate about any changes to the program, we remain committed to the goals of our Train and Equip mission; that is, to enable forces on the ground to fight ISIL," Horne said, using another acronym for ISIS. 

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyRepublicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Biden decides on pick for secretary of State MORE (D-Conn.), a critic of the program, called on Monday for the program to be suspended. He said the revelation that some equipment was handed over is "just the latest indictment of a program that was destined to fail at the start." 

"I am grateful for the work that has been put into trying to make this program successful," said Murphy, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism.

“But for those of us who opposed the Syria train and equip program from the start, our predictions that our assistance would end up aiding mortal enemies of the U.S. like al Qaeda are now coming true," Murphy said.  

The administration announced the creation of the program last year, which seeks to create a ground force to take on ISIS and supersede the need to send in U.S. forces. Congress authorized the program last September and provided $500 million for the program in December.  

The initial goal was to train 5,400 by the year's end, but military commanders say that goal will not be attainable. The administration has requested $600 million for the program in 2016.