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CENTCOM: 4 more U.S.-trained Syrians enter fight against Islamic State

By Ryan Maass
A member of the Free Syrian Army stands and looks during clashes with Syrian government forces in Aleppo in Syria, September 2, 2012. Government forces shelled a number of areas in northern Syria part of efforts by the regime to target rebel strongholds. Troops used planes to hit several homes in Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. UPI
A member of the Free Syrian Army stands and looks during clashes with Syrian government forces in Aleppo in Syria, September 2, 2012. Government forces shelled a number of areas in northern Syria part of efforts by the regime to target rebel strongholds. Troops used planes to hit several homes in Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- An official with U.S. Central Command has revised the official size of the New Syrian Forces from "four or five" to nine, effectively doubling the size of the fighting force.

The Pentagon-backed program aims to arm Syrian rebels to push back the Islamic State, which is also identified as Daesh and by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL. CENTCOM commander Gen. Lloyd Austin stunned lawmakers earlier this week when he reported the small number to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Despite the drastically lower-than-expected turnout, officials say more fighters are on the way. The goal was to create a U.S. trained force 5,000 strong by the end of 2015.

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Air Force Col. Pat Ryder explained there are 11 more fighters currently enrolled in the training program who are not yet in Syria, bringing the program's total size to include 20 fighters.

The NSF met significant challenges since Congress authorized the train-and-equip program. An initial team of 54 fighters went through training, however the force was practically eradicated when a bulk of the fighters went missing, or quit the program to rejoin their old rebel groups. One fighter is likely to have been killed in action.

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Unrest in Syria stems not only from rising aggression from the Islamic State, but also from the Syrian Civil War which pits the established regime under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against the Free Syrian Army and a number of other, smaller rebel groups. Recently, Russia has moved to support the Assad regime, and is in the process of transporting more equipment to the region, including fighter jets, as it builds up its air base near Latakia.

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