Syria Snafu Emblematic of Congress’s Budgeting Problem
By Sarah Tully
“We’re talking four or five” men, said Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of the U.S. Central Command during a Senate hearing in September. That’s how many U.S.-trained so-called moderate Syrian rebels are left on the battlefield fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as part of the administration’s $500 million dollar train and equip program.
During a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the United States’ efforts against ISIL, Austin and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth tried their best to sell lemons as lemonade. But Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) was not buying it. “I’ve never seen testimony as divorced from the reality of every outside expert as this,” said McCain, after hearing Austin’s relatively rosy testimony. In fact, committee Republicans and Democrats alike expressed skepticism for the program—a rare display of bipartisan agreement.
The program, which officials hoped would train roughly 5,400 Syrians, has come under fire in recent months with reports that only 54 U.S. trained fighters had entered the Syrian battleground to fight ISIL as of mid-August. Last month’s hearing revealed that, of the 54 trainees who entered the battlefield, only 4 or 5 trainees remain. As Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) put it, “that’s a joke.”