Just “four or five” U.S.-trained anti-ISIS fighters are combatting the so-called Islamic State, a top American military official told Congress on Wednesday, despite a program that cost as much as $500 million. It is a staggeringly low number for a project in which the Obama administration had initially planned to train 5,400 fighters a year. At this pace of training, U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin told a Senate committee, the U.S. “won’t reach the goal we initially established for ourself.” In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Austin and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth gave a relatively rosy picture of the U.S.-led effort to defeat ISIS, characterizing the Syrian train-and-equip program as merely “off to a slow start.”
“That’s a joke,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) told Austin, referring to the “four or five” figure.
Congress passed a bill to train and equip the Syrian rebels a year ago. The first class of trainees only contained 54 fighters, most of whom fled their training camp in Turkey this summer. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook has repeatedly refused to specify where those fighters ended up, saying he does not want to get into individual “dispositions.”