The United States has started training “dozens” of Syrians to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), part of a retooled effort to avoid the mistakes of a previous program.
“Dozens of people are now being trained,” Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, said at a briefing Friday.
Warren would not get more specific on the number of fighters, calling the program “relatively small” as the Pentagon looks to see if it works.
A $500 million per year program meant to train a moderate force to defeat ISIS was scuttled in October after fielding only 150 rebels. Those fighters cost $384 million and were far short of the program’s goal of getting 3,000 by December.
The new program is taking a few individual fighters out of units for training rather than bringing in the whole unit as was done before, Warren said. The units' leaders are staying in the field and not going to the training, he added.
“One of the lessons we learned is people didn’t want to come off the line for the training,” he said. “Why? Because they were fighting for their homes, their families, dedicated enemy, et cetera.”
The hope is a few trained fighters will lift up the whole unit, Warren said.
“If you have a highly trained individual here, well, the man on his left and his right are going to benefit from his great training,” he said. “So now, for the price of training one, you’ve got three who are better and maybe even more than that.”
Other lessons learned include cultural aspects and “personnel management,” Warren said, such as when to start the training or when to plan leave.
More than 100 fighters from the 2015 training program are still on the battlefield, Warren said. The new group is still in training and hasn’t returned to the battlefield.
If the new program works, the Pentagon will do more, he said. If it doesn’t, the program will shift again, he added.
“Some of this is us working through different scenarios and ideas and programs through a simple process of trial and error,” he said. “When we find things that work, we’re going to do more of them.”