Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter looks on as President Barack Obama delivers remarks Monday after meeting with members of his national security team concerning the Islamic State at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. Carter said Tuesday the U.S. military has only trained 60 Syrian rebels to fight IS. Pool photo by Drew Angerer/UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON, July 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. military has trained 60 Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State militants, "an awfully small number," U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said Tuesday.
Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee the Obama administration had hoped to train a much larger group of Syrian rebels by now.
"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.
The news came one day after U.S. President Barack Obama placed an emphasis on training Iraqi forces and "moderate" Syrian rebels to fight IS -- also identified as Daesh and by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL.
"More Sunni volunteers are coming forward," Obama after a briefing at the Pentagon. "Some are already being trained and they can be a new force against ISIL. We continue to accelerate the delivery of critical equipment, including anti-tank weapons, to Iraqi security forces."
"And I have made it clear to my team that we will do more to train and equip the moderate opposition in Syria," he said.
Part of the reason there is such a small number of Syrian rebel fighters being trained is because they must first be vetted to make sure they don't support Syria's Assad regime.
"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 some 7,000 potential volunteers, and they hope to train 3,000 to 5,000 Syrian fighters each year.
"We expect them to grow, we hope they grow," Carter said. "But what we need from the Iraqi government is the enrollment of Sunnis in the Iraqi security forces and the commitment of the Iraqi government to pay them, to equip them with our help."