With Assad teetering and ISIS, al Nusra, and the Kurds jockeying for position after his fall, the U.S.’s preferred option still fields fewer fighters than a college football team. CNN reports:
The United States has only trained approximately 60 Syrian rebel fighters as of July 3, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, saying the number is “much smaller” than the administration hoped to train at this point.
“I said the number 60, and I can look out at your faces and you have the same reaction I do, which is that that’s an awfully small number,” he said.
Well, heck of a job we’re doing here. As Max Abrahms said on Twitter:
Imagine how much weaponry each of the 60 moderate rebels in Syria is now wielding. Those are dangerous men.
— Max Abrahms (@MaxAbrahms) July 7, 2015
But beyond the snark, a serious point: it’s well past time we admitted that the U.S. is either unserious about this force, unable to find fighters to fit our needs, or both. We had a chance earlier in the war to back a genuinely moderate, broadly “Syrian” rebel force; that time is past. With the Saudis and Turks supporting al Nusra, and the Turks threatening to invade the part of Syria that just happens to include Syrian Kurdistan, our ability to influence the endgame in that war-torn land is slipping by the day. Basing U.S. policy on a strategy of waiting for the fighters we’re training won’t cut it any longer.
There are other options: we could more firmly back the Kurds (including supporting them through diplomatic channels with Turkey), or we might identify and help other powerful local groups, or we can become more pragmatic about whom we’re willing to work with, or all of the above. But hiding behind the promise that one day this tiny band will grow into an army big enough to make a difference in time is no longer credible—if it ever was.