Pentagon: US looking for ways to fix Syrian rebel program

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is considering ways to fix the problems in supporting moderate Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook offered no details on how the program could be revamped, but told reporters that Defense Secretary Ash Carter still believes training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels and sending them into battle against the Islamic State is the right strategy.

A senior defense official said that no decisions on how to fix the problems have been made, and proposals are still being discussed within the Pentagon. Higher level administration meetings on the issue are expected to take place beginning this week. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Cook also acknowledged failures when the first group of 54 U.S.-trained Syrian fighters were sent into Syria in late July. A Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida attacked the group, killing several of the fighters and reportedly taking others hostage. A number of the remaining fighters fled, although the total has not been clear.

Cook and other Pentagon officials have declined to say how many of the 54 they've located or where they all are.

There are currently two more groups of moderate rebels, totaling about 200 people, training at sites in Jordan and Turkey, and one of the courses is expected to finish soon.

U.S. officials, however, have expressed concerns about how and where the first group of rebel troops returned to combat after their training. And changes to those procedures are among the issues being discussed.

"We're going to tweak the program, make adjustments as we go," said Cook.

Congress allocated $500 million for the program, and officials said that as of the end of May nearly $42 million had been spent.

Initially, the Pentagon said the goal was to train 5,400 fighters in the first year. Asked whether that goal has been updated, considering the slow and troubled start, Cook said that officials are taking a hard look at the number but haven't changed it yet.

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