Syrian Train-and-Equip Effort Will Continue, Pentagon Spokesman Says


DoD will continue to support moderate Syrian forces in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said today.

Cook said at a news conference that DoD officials believe local forces are the deciding factor in the fight against ISIL, “and that has not changed.”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has been candid about the delays and problems that have confronted the train-and-equip effort for moderate Syrian forces. Only 54 Syrian fighters graduated from the first class and that group was ambushed and scattered in late July by Al-Nusra fighters -- a group affiliated with al-Qaida.

“The secretary still believes that it’s important to provide support to those moderate Syrian forces,” Cook said. “We’ve seen and the secretary’s been candid about what happened initially with the train and equip program. We’ve learned lessons from that, [we] continue to learn lessons from that, and we’re going to continue moving forward with that program.”

U.S. officials are considering others ways to enhance the effectiveness of anti-ISIL fighters and enhance the overall effectiveness of the fight against ISIL, Cook said.

A second group of Syrians are being trained now and several thousand Syrians recommended for training are being vetted, the press secretary said.

Cook addressed news reports that Russia is providing aid to the regime of Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. “Any effort to bolster the Assad regime right now would potentially be destabilizing,” he said. “Our focus is on fighting ISIL, and we think that further support for the Assad regime could actually be counterproductive.”

Russia propping up the Assad regime could complicate an already complicated conflict, Cook continued.

“We think … Russian support for the Assad regime risks further escalating the conflict [and] making the situation worse,” he said. “That is our concern right now and we don’t see any indication right now that the Russians are … ending their support for the Assad regime.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)