Overnight Defense: Only 'four or five' US-trained rebels in Syria

TOPLINE: Only four or five Syrian rebels trained by the United States are actually in Syria, Pentagon officials admitted Wednesday.

Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, revealed the number in a grilling by senators at an Armed Services Committee hearing.

Republicans and Democrats blasted the results of the program, which was meant to field a force of 5,400 by December to take on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

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Last year, the Obama administration announced the training program as a way to create a ground force to take on ISIS without having to deploy U.S. forces.

"The administration knew on the front end this would be a difficult task," White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday. "It's proven to be even more difficult than we thought."

Congress appropriated $500 million for the program in 2015. The Pentagon has requested $600 million for the program in 2016. The administration's goal is to train 15,000 rebels in three years.

Christine Wormuth, under secretary of Defense for policy, said "clearly" the target of 5,400 by December would not be reached.

She said the Pentagon was currently training between 100 and 120 more rebels. The Pentagon last week said there were three classes now in training.

SENATORS CONFRONT MILITARY OVER ISIS INTEL: Senators on Wednesday vowed to get to the bottom of allegations that the U.S. military has been skewing intelligence assessments about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Two Senate committees -- Armed Services and Intelligence -- are investigating the allegations that the U.S. Central Command's intelligence director altered assessments on the war prepared by Defense Intelligence Agency analysts to suggest the war is going better than it is.

Members of both committees have interviewed the whistleblower who made the allegations.

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrTrump's new intel chief makes immediate changes, ousts top official Intel officials warned House lawmakers Russia is interfering to get Trump reelected: NYT Pelosi joins pressure campaign on Huawei MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the committees would wait until the Pentagon inspector general finishes its investigation before taking any action, while continuing to conduct a "normal oversight role."

House lawmakers are also looking into the issue.

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzThe myth of the conservative bestseller Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records MORE (R-Utah) and committee member Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) wrote a letter to Carter and the Pentagon inspector general last week requesting a briefing.

A House Intelligence Committee aide confirmed to The Hill that the panel's staff members participated in a conference call on Friday with the Pentagon IG's office.

The allegations, and the Pentagon investigation, were first unearthed by The New York Times in July. The Daily Beast reported earlier this month that more than 50 intelligence analysts back the whistleblower's allegations.

DURBIN LOCKING DOWN VOTES ON ISRAEL AMENDMENT: Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development Democratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe MORE (D-Ill.) said Wednesday that he's still working on securing votes on a controversial amendment to a resolution on the Iran deal ahead of Thursday's vote.

The Senate is expected to take a procedural vote Thursday on an amendment to the resolution of disapproval from Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSanders is a risk, not a winner Buttigieg sounds alarm after Sanders wins Nevada Where do we go from here? Conservation can show the way MORE (R-Ky.). Republicans want to ban President Obama from lifting sanctions against Iran until Tehran publicly recognizes Israel's right to exist and releases Americans currently held in the country.

Democrats will pick up at least two new votes in their quest to keep Republicans from getting the 60 votes needed to move forward with the amendment: Sens. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerWhite House preparing to ask Congress for funds to combat coronavirus: report Schumer cites security, DHS ban in questioning TSA use of TikTok Russian interference reports rock Capitol Hill MORE (D-N.Y.) and Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDemocrats worried about Trump's growing strength Senate Democrats queasy over Sanders as nominee Schumer: Trump address 'demagogic, undignified, highly partisan' MORE (D-Md.).

Schumer and Cardin were two of the four Senate Democrats who oppose the Iran deal, but aides to both senators confirmed that they would vote "no" on cloture for McConnell's amendment.

Spokespersons for Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Lawmakers push back at Trump's Pentagon funding grab for wall Overnight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit MORE (D-W.Va.) and Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMenendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements Media's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle MORE (D-N.J.), both of whom support the resolution of disapproval, said the senators are undecided on how they'll vote on McConnell's amendment.

US NOT RULING OUT ACCEPTING MORE SYRIAN REFUGEES: The Obama administration is still weighing proposals for the U.S. to accept thousands more Syrian refugees, United Nations Ambassador Samantha PowerSamantha Jane PowerPresident Trump's strike of choice Obama reveals his top books of 2019 Former US envoy Samantha Power: Trump finding 'new ways to compensate Putin for election interference' MORE said Wednesday at a lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Power's remarks came after Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) -- the No. 2 Senate Democrat -- called for the Obama administration to accept 100,000 refugees.

The new target of 10,000 refugees in fiscal year 2016 -- up from just 1,400 since the civil war in Syria began -- is "too modest," Durbin said on Tuesday.

Dozens of House Democrats have also called for the U.S. to allow 100,000 refugees to enter the country.

Some Republicans, meanwhile, have been more critical of the Obama administration's decision to allow additional refugees into the country, and have worried about security threats that could arise.

The refugee crisis has dominated foreign policy circles in recent weeks, and is likely to loom large when world leaders flock to New York for the U.N. General Assembly next week.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

-- Jon Stewart urges renewal of 9/11 first responders benefits

-- Reid suggests Dems will block Israel amendment

-- Trump delivers national security address aboard USS Iowa

-- House GOP wants McConnell to go nuclear on Iran agreement

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