By Phil Stewart and Kate Holton
U.S. President Barack Obama will overhaul Washington’s approach to supporting Syrian rebel forces following this year’s deeply troubled launch of a U.S. military training program, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Friday.
The decision would be announced later on Friday, he told journalists, saying: “I think you’ll be hearing very shortly from him in that regard about the proposals that he has approved and that we are going to go forward with.”
In May, the U.S. military began training for up to 5,400 fighters a year in what was seen as a test of Obama’s strategy of having local partners combat Islamic State militants and keep U.S. troops off the front lines.
But the program was troubled from the start, with some of the first class of less than 60 fighters coming under attack from al Qaeda’s Syria wing, Nusra Front, in their battlefield debut.
Reuters reported last week that the Obama administration was considering extending support to thousands of Syrian rebel fighters, possibly with arms and air strikes, as part of the revamped approach to Syria.
That includes rebels near the border with Turkey and members of the Syrian Arab Coalition.
Carter said the new U.S. effort would seek to enable Syrian rebels in much the way the United States had helped Syrian Kurdish forces to successfully battle Islamic State in Syria.
“The work we’ve done with the Kurds in northern Syria is an example of an effective approach where you have a group that is capable, motivated on the ground, that you can enable their success,” Carter said.
“That’s exactly the kind of example that we would like to pursue with other groups in other parts of Syria going forward. That is going to be the core of the President’s concept.”