The Obama administration is "adapting" the Pentagon's $500 million program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The cancelation of the train-and-equip program comes after the administration had paused the program last month, following a string of bad news and the failure to build a viable ground force to take on ISIS.
Last month, the Pentagon admitted that a second class of about 70 rebels had handed over a quarter of their U.S.-provided equipment to al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front.
The first class of 54 rebels had disintegrated in July, after being attacked by the al-Nusra Front upon reentering Syria from their training sites. At least one rebel was killed in the attack.
Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, sent shockwaves through Washington after admitting that only "four or five" of that first class remained as fighters.
The Pentagon program, which was budgeted at $500 million in 2015 and $600 million in 2016, was originally envisioned to create a force of 5,000 by the end of the year and 15,000 at the end of three years.
House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — The Quad confab The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble House passes sweeping defense policy bill MORE (D-Wash.), who was a supporter of the program, the decision "clearly" meant a failure of the train and equip program.
"The previous program did not succeed. There is no question about that," he said Friday morning at the Military Reporters and Editors conference, "It was worth trying. It was worth trying to find moderate alternatives. But they just don't exist in sufficient numbers to be efficient and effective."
In recent days, members of Congress had called on the administration to clarify its Syria strategy as Russia began airstrikes in the country to shore up the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Rep. Rob WittmanRobert (Rob) Joseph WittmanOvernight Defense: House Armed Services starts defense bill markups | Two Navy sailors die of COVID-19 | Pentagon reimposes mask mandate in some places Passport backlog threatens to upend travel plans for millions of Americans Overnight Defense: Intel releases highly anticipated UFO report | Biden meets with Afghan president | Conservatives lash out at Milley MORE (R-Va.), chairman of the House Armed Services military readiness subcommittee, said Russia's entrance changes the "whole playing field." He said what the U.S. should do is to work with regional partners Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to stop ISIS or the Syrian regime from spreading their influence.
"You can pick strategic areas ... Where can we preserve some integrity [and] stop the spread of ISIL, Russian and Iranian influence?" said Wittman.
"It is the president’s responsibility to develop and execute a strategy that will actually achieve his stated goal of degrading and destroying ISIL," said Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerAustin, Milley to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal After messy Afghanistan withdrawal, questions remain House Democrats press leaders to include more funding for electric vehicles in spending plan MORE (R-Neb.).
"As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I stand ready to provide needed oversight for any plan moving forward," she said.
This story was updated at 12:01 p.m.