The U.S. now has so few fighters in Syria you can count them on your fingers—of one hand. The New York Times reports:
Only four or five Syrian individuals trained by the United States military to confront the Islamic State remain in the fight, the head of the United States Central Command told a Senate panel on Wednesday, a bleak acknowledgment that the Defense Department’s $500 million program to raise an army of Syrian fighters has gone nowhere.
Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the top American commander in the Middle East, also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States would not reach its goal of training 5,000 Syrian fighters anytime soon.
General Austin for the first time confirmed earlier reports, which the Pentagon had attempted to deny, that the first graduating class of 54 fighters, code-named Division 30, had been attacked by Nusra Front fighters in July as they transited across Syria, and that most of the U.S.-trained fighters had either fled or were killed. Reports at the time indicated that Nusra had captured the leader of the division.
In July, Ash Carter caused a stir when he told the Senate, “I said the number 60 [fighters trained], 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.” But the most recent news means that that number was 1200-1500% larger than our current forces there. At the time, we quipped that “the U.S.’s preferred option still fields fewer fighters than a college football team”; now, they might not be able to start a pickup basketball game. To put this in perspective, the tiny Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives, best known for tuna fishing and honeymoons, currently has 50-100 citizens fighting in ISIS.
Meanwhile, at the same hearing, General Austin indicated that the Pentagon was still completely flummoxed as to what Russia’s broader objectives were in sending arms and troops (far more than 5, or even 50) to Syria. The utter fecklessness of U.S. Syria policy continues apace.