World Bulletin/News Desk
The Pentagon said Friday that a year-long plan to train and equip 5,000 Syrian rebels to fight the ISIL in Iraq and Syria could stretch into early 2016.
Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said during a Pentagon briefing that it would take three to five months to recruit and vet Syrian rebels before any training begins.
By that timeline, the 5,000 rebels would not start training until between March and May 2015 at the earliest. And that recruiting and vetting has not begun yet, Kirby said.
That timeline is even later than the one given earlier this week by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk, who told lawmakers on Wednesday that the rebels would begin training in March and ready to fight by March 2016, The Hill reported.
But Kirby estimated training would only take eight to nine months of training time -- which would see rebels ready between November 2015 and February 2016 at the earliest.
"We want to get this right more than we want to get it done fast. And it's going to be time-consuming," he said.
Some lawmakers expressed concern this week that the program was not moving fast enough, and that moderate opposition in Syria is nearly extinct as it fends off attacks from ISIS and the Assad regime.
The timeline was not entirely unexpected by Congress. Lawmakers on Friday approved authority for that program for two years as part of a defense policy bill that would give the Pentagon until December 2016.
"The train and equip program cannot be delayed. In order for it to be operationally effective, the U.S. must prioritize equipping Syrian freedom fighters to take on Assad's terrorist militias as well as Daesh," said Oubai Shahbandar, a senior adviser for the Syrian National Coalition, using an Arab term for ISIL.
Kirby said planners have not been "sitting idle," and that Army Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, who has been appointed to oversee the effort, has established vetting criteria.
The Pentagon has also has been working with other U.S. agencies and international partners in the region "who know these groups and know these individuals," he said.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 14 Aralık 2014, 13:29