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Pentagon Ending Program to Train, Equip Syria Rebels

Rebel fighters aim their weapons as they demonstrate their skills during a military display as part of a graduation ceremony at a camp in eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria July 12, 2015. The newly graduated rebel fighters, who went through military training, will join the the Free Syrian Army's Al Rahman legion.
Bassam Khabieh | Reuters
Rebel fighters aim their weapons as they demonstrate their skills during a military display as part of a graduation ceremony at a camp in eastern al-Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria July 12, 2015. The newly graduated rebel fighters, who went through military training, will join the the Free Syrian Army's Al Rahman legion.

The Pentagon will Friday announce the official end of its failed program to "train and equip" Syrian rebels and replace it with a far less ambitious program, defense officials said.

The "training" part of the program — which managed to field only "four or five" Syrian rebels into the battle against ISIS in Syria at a cost of about $50 million — will be halted, according to senior defense officials.

"Instead of combat training for the rebels, they will now be used as "enablers" to identify targets and call in airstrikes for U.S. and coalition warplanes.

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The 'equip' part of the program, which provided small arms, ammunition and vehicles, will be dramatically reduced to providing ammunition for some 5,000 friendly moderate Syrian rebels.

Many of the weapons and vehicles provided to the first group of Syrian rebels quickly fell into the hands of enemy forces, such as the al Qaeda-backed Al Nusra Front.

The initial "train and assist" program aimed at aiding and equipping 54,000 moderate rebels by the end of this year. As of now, that number is somewhere around 100, and only a handful of them have actually been engaged in any combat operations against enemy forces.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter, speaking to reporters in London, said the U.S. "remains committed" to the idea of training rebel forces but said officials "have been looking now for several weeks at ways to improve" the current program.

"I wasn't satisfied with the efforts on that regard, so we are looking at different ways to achieve basically to the same kind of strategic objective," he said. "We have devised a number of different approaches to that moving forward and President Obama ... I think we will be hearing very shortly from him in that regard."