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U.S. suspending program to arm Syrian rebels

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Posted at 10:15 AM, Oct 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-09 10:15:21-04

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The U.S. is going to suspend its faltering Syrian rebel training program, U.S. officials said Friday.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said during a news conference in London that the U.S. “remains committed” to training forces in Syria against ISIS, but is looking for ways to “improve” the program.

“I was not satisfied with the early efforts in that regard, and so we are looking at different ways to achieve the same strategic objectives, which is the right one, which is to enable capable motivated forces on the ground to retake territory from ISIL and reclaim Syrian territory from extremism so we have devised a number of different approaches to that going forward,” Carter said.

He added that the president would be talking about it on Friday. The New York Times first reported the move.

A U.S. official told CNN that the program is being suspended as the administration looks for other ways to support moderate opposition in Syria. But the U.S. backing for the rebels is not ending.

The U.S. will provide ammunition to Syria Arab Coalition, some 5,000 moderate rebels in the north, a defense official said Friday.

Commanders in the U.S. special operations community had been pressing for that decision for weeks, defense officials told CNN, after seeing them achieve success on the battlefield. Small numbers of the New Syrian Army also will continue to be supported as well.

Individuals in the SAC will be vetted through their leadership and given training and be given expertise in communications and intelligence support.

“We have devised a number of different approaches to that going forward, and taken them to President Obama and you will be hearing I think very shortly from him,” Carter said Friday.

Asked about the news on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Friday, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said the program was bound for failure from the start.

“It really is (a joke) because, you have the CIA program and you eventually had a DoD program, the problem with the program is they’re training them to fight ISIL only,” the GOP presidential candidate said. “No one in Syria is going to just fight ISIL, they want to take Assad on who has massacred their family, so it was doomed to fail with these restrictions.”

Graham has been highly critical of the administration’s strategy in Syria and the Middle East broadly.