To "provide stability" in Syria, the US needs to train and equip around 40,000 local fighters, but is only 20 percent of the way to that number right now, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford said.
“The presence we have in Syria right now is sustainable and can be adjusted based on conditions,” Dunford added, during the “Transformers:Defense” event hosted by the Washington Post on Thursday.
35,000-40,000 local forces need to be trained/equipped to provide stability in #Syria, per Gen Dunford, but only 20% through the training process
— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) December 6, 2018
President Donald Trump announced back in March that the US would be leaving Syria“very soon” and never officially walked it back, but Dunfords comments suggest that the Washington establishment has overruled the president, much as it had with regard to Afghanistan.
Since 2014, the US has sent around two thousand special operations forces into Syria, citing the need to defeat Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists. Damascus has denounced their presence as illegal occupation.
US troops in Syria officially only advise and assist the “Syrian Democratic Forces,” a proxy militia consisting mostly of Kurdish and some local Arab fighters, whose estimated troop strength is around 65-70,000. Territories liberated from IS by the SDF have not been returned to government control; instead, the US-backed fighters have set up a parallel government structure there.
The SDF seems to have fared somewhat better than other forces the US has sought to cultivate in Syria previously. In 2015, it emerged that “moderate rebels” being trained and armed by the US in Turkey quickly surrendered to the Al-Nusra Front jihadists once they entered Syria.
The Pentagon was granted $500 million for the program in 2015, and had requested $600 million for 2016, with the goal of training 15,000 fighters over three years. By September 2015, however, it had only “four or five” fighters to show for it, prompting one lawmaker to describe it as a “total failure.”
The DOD tried in vain to salvage the “moderate rebel” program until it was eventually dropped and the millions in funding redirected to aiding the SDF. Turkey has not been happy with such a prominent role of Kurdish fighters in that proxy force, however, invading Syria in August 2016 in an attempt to keep the SDF on the left bank of the Euphrates River.
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