U.S. military aircraft airdropped 50 tons of small arms ammunition to vetted Syrian rebel groups Sunday, marking the start of the Obama administration's shift away from the stalled effort to train moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS and instead support existing rebel groups directly with supplies and weapons.
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"Coalition forces conducted an airdrop Sunday in northern Syria to resupply local counter-ISIL ground forces as they conduct operations against ISIL," said Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve in Baghdad, using the acronym preferred by the U.S. government for ISIS.
"This successful airdrop provided ammunition to Syrian Arab groups whose leaders were appropriately vetted by the United States and have been fighting to remove ISIL from northern Syria," Warren said. "Due to operational security we will not have any further details about the groups that received these supplies, their location, or the type of equipment in the airdrop."
A U.S. official said four C-17 aircraft were involved in the airdrop of 50 tons of small arms ammunition.
The airdrops mark the shift in the training and equipping program for moderate Syrian rebels that was announced by the Obama administration Friday.
That $500 million program had sought to train as many as 5,400 rebels to fight ISIS. But in four months, only 125 trained rebels had been returned to Syria to fight ISIS but were quickly targeted by other extremist rebel groups inside Syria. The latest estimate by U.S. Central Command is that about 80 rebels remain in the fight against ISIS.
The administration will no longer train large groups of rebels, focusing instead on providing equipment and weapons to vetted Syrian groups that have already been fighting ISIS in northern Syria.
To speed up the process, the United States will only vet the leaders of these established groups instead of individual potential recruits that had dramatically slowed the original training and equipping program.
Vetted leaders would receive a small amount of training in human rights conducts and on how to provide information for coalition airstrikes inside Syria.
The airdrops on Sunday provided ammunition to Syrian Arab rebel groups in northern Syria that have been fighting ISIS.
Defense officials said the groups would originally receive shipments of ammunition in their fight against ISIS, and will receive additional equipment and more weapons as they prove their reliability