US Falling Short of Goals to Train Anti-ISIS Fighters

The U.S. military is falling far short of its goal.

— -- The U.S. military is falling far short of its goal to train Iraqi recruits to fight ISIS, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday.

"Of the 24,000 Iraqi security forces we had originally envisioned training at our four sites by this fall, we've only received enough recruits to be able to train about 7,000, in addition to about 2,000 counter-terrorism service personnel," Carter said. "As I've told Iraqi leaders, while the United States is open to supporting Iraq more than we already are, we must see a greater commitment from all parts of the Iraqi government."

The effort to train local Iraqi forces to bring the fight on the ground is a cornerstone of the US-led coalition’s strategy to defeat ISIS. President Obama said last week that without this commitment from the Iraqis the strategy is incomplete.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey, who also testified Wednesday, said he would not support shifting the strategy from sending U.S. military advisers to sending U.S combat troops. "I would not recommend that we put U.S. forces in harm's way simply to stiffen the spine of local forces. If their spine is not stiffened by the threat of ISIL on their way of life, nothing we do is going to stiffen their spine.”

The situation is apparently worse in Syria. Carter and Dempsey both acknowledged that the mission find and train moderate Syrian fighters is even “more challenging” than it is in Iraq.

“We are trying to recruit and identify people that … can be counted on, that is, to fight, to have the right mindset and ideology, not be aligned with groups like ISIL [ISIS], on the one hand,” Carter said. “And on the other hand … work towards our goals, our goal being for them to fight ISIL in the first instance. It turns out to be very hard to identify people who meet both of those criteria.”

When the strategy to defeat ISIS inside Syria was announced last year the Pentagon said it aimed to train 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels per year over three years. Ten months later the Pentagon has begun training just under 100 men at a camp inside Jordan. No Syrian forces have yet to graduate from any training program.

“We have enough training sites and so forth for them; for now we don't have enough trainees to fill them,” Carter said.