The Corner

National Security & Defense

ISIS Fighters Only Outnumber American-Trained Syrian Allies By 400 to 1

Unless Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man are in this group, I’m not sure ISIS is intimidated:

The United States has only trained approximately 60 Syrian rebel fighters as of July 3, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, saying the number is “much smaller” than the administration hoped to train at this point.

“I said the number 60, 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,” he said.

“Small number” is right. To put this in perspective, the CIA estimated ISIS has between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters in Syria and Iraq alone, while ISIS claims much greater numbers. Even if we err on the conservative side of the CIA estimate, American-trained rebels are outnumbered by a 400 to 1 ratio. Oh, and things aren’t set to get much better anytime soon:

The low numbers are blamed on a strict vetting process that includes ensuring the fighters are committed to combat ISIS, as opposed to the Assad regime, and passing a counter-intelligence screening.

“We make sure that they, for example, aren’t going to pose a green-on-blue threat to their trainers; that they don’t have any history of atrocities,” Carter said.

The military is currently vetting 7,000 volunteers. The goal of the program is to train 3,000 to 5,000 fighters per year, a far cry away from 60 being trained now.

Make no mistake, I support strict vetting. Otherwise, Americans die, and the U.S. military essentially becomes ISIS’s arms dealer. But at the present rate, we will never create an effective allied Syrian fighting force. In fact, so long as both Syrians and Iraqis see a half-hearted (at best) American commitment to defeating ISIS, they’ll hedge their bets with the local “strong horse.” After all, they’d prefer not to be beheaded.

In the Middle East — as in the rest of the world — strength matters. Once again, the world’s greatest military superpower is displaying nothing but weakness.

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