Pentagon head: US to change Syrian rebel training program

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Carter Hints at New U.S. Approach to Supporting Syrian Rebels

LONDON (AP) — The U.S. will overhaul the failed Syrian rebel training program, working more closely with capable Kurdish and other forces in Syria, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Friday.

No details were immediately available, but the $500 million program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State group is widely considered a failure. It has produced fewer than 80 soldiers, many of whom had fled, been captured or killed in early fighting.

Carter said at a news conference in London that the work the U.S. has done with the Kurds is a good example of an effective approach with a capable, motivated ground combat force. He did not provide more details.

U.S. officials have said the new effort would focus more on embedding recruits with established Kurdish and Arab units, rather than sending them directly into front-line combat. Last week, a commander of one of the U.S.-trained rebel units turned over a half-dozen U.S. vehicles to extremist militants.

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Pentagon head: US to change Syrian rebel training program
FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2012 file photo, Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan near Idlib, Syria. Syrian rebels on Friday, May 8, 2015, voiced serious reservations about a U.S. program to train moderate rebels which U.S. and Jordanian officials say has kicked off in Jordan, dismissing it as a drop in the ocean that would not change realities on the ground. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2012, file photo, Free Syrian Army fighters take their positions, close to a military base, near Azaz, Syria. Syrian rebels on Friday, May 8, 2015, voiced serious reservations about a U.S. program to train moderate rebels which U.S. and Jordanian officials say has kicked off in Jordan, dismissing it as a drop in the ocean that would not change realities on the ground. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2012, file photo, a Free Syrian Army soldier stands on a damaged Syrian military tank in front of a damaged mosque, which were destroyed during fighting with government forces, in the Syrian town of Azaz, on the outskirts of Aleppo. Syrian rebels on Friday, May 8, 2015, voiced serious reservations about a U.S. program to train moderate rebels which U.S. and Jordanian officials say has kicked off in Jordan, dismissing it as a drop in the ocean that would not change realities on the ground. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
FILE - In this December 17, 2012, file photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover during fighting with the Syrian Army in Azaz, Syria. Syrian rebels on Friday, May 8, 2015, voiced serious reservations about a U.S. program to train moderate rebels which U.S. and Jordanian officials say has kicked off in Jordan, dismissing it as a drop in the ocean that would not change realities on the ground. (AP Photo/Virginie Nguyen Huang, File)
FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012 file photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter from the Al-Faruk brigade, center, steps on a portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad, at the Tal Abyad, a Turkish-Syrian border crossing captured by the rebels, eastern Syria. Syrian rebels on Friday, May 8, 2015, voiced serious reservations about a U.S. program to train moderate rebels which U.S. and Jordanian officials say has kicked off in Jordan, dismissing it as a drop in the ocean that would not change realities on the ground. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 30, 2015, file photo, a Syrian Kurdish sniper looks at the rubble in the Syrian city of Ain al-Arab, also known as Kobani. Syrian rebels on Friday, May 8, 2015, voiced serious reservations about a U.S. program to train moderate rebels which U.S. and Jordanian officials say has kicked off in Jordan, dismissing it as a drop in the ocean that would not change realities on the ground. (AP Photo, File)
In this Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 photo, Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan, near Idlib, Syria. The training is part of an attempt to transform the rag-tag rebel groups into a disciplined fighting force. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
In this Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 photo, Syrian rebels listen to their trainer while teaching them how to use the RPG during a training session in Maaret Ikhwan, near Idlib, Syria. The training is part of an attempt to transform the rag-tag rebel groups into a disciplined fighting force. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
In this Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 photo, Syrian rebels prepare themselves before attending a training session in Maaret Ikhwan, near Idlib, Syria. The training is part of an attempt to transform the rag-tag rebel groups into a disciplined fighting force. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
In this Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 photo, Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan, near Idlib, Syria, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012. The training is part of an attempt to transform the rag-tag rebel groups into a disciplined fighting force. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
In this Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 photo, Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan, near Idlib, Syria. Sixteen rebel fighters drop down for pushups in a rain-slick backyard, practice storming a nearby house from the cover of an olive grove and then assemble for a refresher course on firing rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Their instructor, a former Syrian commando, says his young trainees still have a lot to learn, but that their drive to topple President Bashar Assad already makes them better soldiers than the conscripts defending the regime. The training is part of an attempt to transform the rag-tag rebel groups into a disciplined fighting force.(AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
In this Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 photo, Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan, near Idlib, Syria. The training is part of an attempt to transform the rag-tag rebel groups into a disciplined fighting force. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
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"The work we've done with the Kurds in northern Syria is an example of an effective approach," Carter said. "That's exactly the kind of example that we would like to pursue with other groups in other parts of Syria going forward."

He called it a "more strategic approach" than what the U.S. has been doing from the beginning. "We have been looking for now several weeks at ways to improve that program," Carter said. "I wasn't satisfied with the early efforts in that regard."

Instead of fighting IS in small units, the U.S.-trained rebels would be attached to larger existing Kurdish and Arab forces. They would be equipped with U.S. communications gear and trained to provide intelligence and to designate IS targets for airstrikes in coordination with U.S. troops outside of Syria, the officials said.

The $500 million training program has been beset by a series of embarrassing setbacks. The first group of trainees largely disbanded soon after they were sent into combat; some were captured or killed, while others fled. A second class yielded only a small number of new fighters, drawing criticism from U.S. lawmakers who condemned the program as a joke and a failure.

The top U.S. commander in the Middle East, Gen. Lloyd Austin, acknowledged that the program got off "to a slow start" and he told Congress that he looking at options that would best employ the moderate forces.

Officials have also said the new plan also scales back the number of rebels the U.S. expects to train from the initial 5,400 per year to a much smaller total. It also would streamline the vetting process designed to weed out terrorist infiltrators.

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Pentagon head: US to change Syrian rebel training program
A Syrian refugee carries a baby over the broken border fence into Turkey after breaking the border fence and crossing from Syria in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, Sunday, June 14, 2015. The mass displacement of Syrians across the border into Turkey comes as Kurdish fighters and Islamic extremists clashed in nearby city of Tal Abyad. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
IDLIB, SYRIA - SEPTEMBER 06: Syrian search and rescue team search for the victims after Syrian regime attack in Ariha neighborhood in Idlib, Syria on September 6, 2015. A separate attack carried out by Syrian army helicopters in the town of Ariha south of Idlib killed at least six others, another local civil defense source said. (Photo by Mohammad Amen Qurabi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DAMASCUS, SYRIA - AUGUST 20 : Syrian firefighters try to extinguish a fire at a building after Asad regime forces' airstrikes on a residential area in the opposition controlled Damascus suburb of Douma, Syria on August 20, 2015. (Photo by Motaseem Rashed/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DARAA, SYRIA - AUGUST 19 : A view of the destruction after the Assad regime forces shelling on the opposition-controlled areas in Daraa, Syria on August 19, 2015. Many buildings including houses, workplaces and infrastructure were damaged in the attacks. (Photo by Ammar el Ali/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - JUNE 09: An injured Syrian man is carried on a stretcher by emergency staff after a barrel bomb attack dropped by Syrian regime forces on a bakery in Ansari neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on June 09, 2015. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Syrian refugees wait between Syria and Turkish border as Turkish soldiers block them to pass Turkish side, on June 9, 2015, at Akcakale, in Sanliurfa province. Some 4,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey this week, fleeing fresh clashes pitting Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State (IS) group, a Turkish official said Friday. Kurdish forces are trying to drive the militants out of Tel Abyad, in Syria's Hassakah province, close to the Turkish border town of Akcakale. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian rescue workers and citizens evacuate people from a building following a reported barrel bomb attack by Syrian government forces on the central al-Fardous rebel held neighbourhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, on June 9, 2015. AFP PHOTO / KARAM AL-MASRI (Photo credit should read KARAM AL-MASRI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian man carries a body after it was removed from the rubble of buildings following a reported barrel bomb attack by government forces on the Qadi Askar district of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on May 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO / AMC / ZEIN AL-RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke billows following the detonation of explosives placed by Syrian government forces inside a tunnel that was reportedly used by rebels in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on May 19, 2015. AFP PHOTO / GEORGE OURFALIAN (Photo credit should read GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A fighter from a local popular committee, which supports the Syrian government forces, guards a look out point in the Hamidiyeh neighbourhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo as they try to defend the traditionally Christian district on the third day of intense battles with Islamic State group jihadists on April 9, 2015. AFP PHOTO / GEORGE OUFALIAN (Photo credit should read GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo released on May 4, 2015, by a militant website, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, Islamic State militants pass by a convoy in Tel Abyad town, northeast Syria. In contrast to the failures of the Iraqi army, in Syria Kurdish fighters are on the march against the Islamic State group, capturing towns and villages in an oil-rich swath of the country's northeast in recent days, under the cover of U.S.-led airstrikes. (Militant website via AP)
A man walks past the rubble of a building following reported shelling by Syrian government forces in the Bab al-Hadid neighbourhood of the northern city of Aleppo on April 18, 2015. Aleppo has been devastated by fighting since rebel fighters seized its eastern half in 2012, setting up a front line that carves through its historic heart. AFP PHOTO / ZEIN AL-RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Tuesday June 2, 2015 file photo, a migrant from Syria waits at the port of Kos island, Greece, after she and others were rescued by the Greek Coast Guard while they were trying to cross from Turkey to Greece on a dinghy. Greece and Italy are the main points of entry into the European Union for refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East and Africa hoping to reach other European Union countries. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)
A Kurdish fighter poses with a rabbit on the outskirts of the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on March 30, 2015. Islamic State (IS) fighters were driven out of Kobane on January 26, by Kurdish and allied forces. AFP PHOTO/YASIN AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Young boys play on a destroyed building near a sign reading 'Kobane' in the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on March 28, 2015. Islamic State (IS) fighters were driven out of Kobane on January 26 by Kurdish and allied forces. AFP PHOTO / YASIN AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
Kurdish men sit near bonfire near a destroyed building, in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on March 22, 2015. AFP PHOTO/YASIN AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
A female Syrian soldier from the Republican Guard commando battalion fires a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) during clashes with rebels in the restive Jobar area, in eastern Damascus, on March 25, 2015. The female battalion, which was created nearly a year ago, consists of 800 female soldiers who are positioned in the suburbs of the Syrian capital where they monitor and secure the frontlines with snipers, rockets and machine guns. AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian Kurdish boy sits on a destroyed tank in the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on March 27, 2015. Islamic State (IS) fighters were driven out of Kobane on January 26 by Kurdish and allied forces. AFP PHOTO/YASIN AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks through the rubble following reported air strikes by government forces on the eastern Shaar neighbourhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on March 27, 2015. AFP PHOTO / AMC / ZEIN AL-RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
A female Syrian soldier from the Republican Guard commando battalion drives a tank during clashes with rebels in the restive Jobar area, in eastern Damascus, on March 25, 2015. The female battalion, which was created nearly a year ago, consists of 800 female soldiers who are positioned in the suburbs of the Syrian capital where they monitor and secure the frontlines with snipers, rockets and machine guns. AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID (Photo credit should read JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images)
A Kurdish Syrian woman weeps away the debris from what is left of a destroyed building in town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on March 24, 2015. Islamic State (IS) fighters were driven out of Kobane on January 26, by Kurdish and allied forces. AFP PHOTO/YASIN AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian schoolgirl stands next a damaged wall outside her school in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on March 25, 2015. Islamic State (IS) fighters were driven out of Kobane on January 26 by Kurdish and allied forces. AFP PHOTO/YASIN AKGUL (Photo credit should read YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images)
GRAPHIC CONTENTWounded Syrian children react as they wait for treatment at a clinic in the rebel-held area of Douma, east of the capital Damascus, following reported air strikes by regime forces on March 13, 2015. More than 210,000 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began in March 2011. AFP PHOTO / ABD DOUMANY (Photo credit should read ABD DOUMANY/AFP/Getty Images)
A photo taken on January 30, 2015 shows the eastern part of the destroyed city of Halimce, east of the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab. Kurdish forces recaptured the town on the Turkish frontier on January 26, in a symbolic blow to the jihadists who have seized large swathes of territory in their onslaught across Syria and Iraq. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian children reenact scenes, they said to have seen in Islamic State jihadist group videos, in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma, on March 5, 2015. Syria's conflict began as a popular uprising but evolved into a multi-front civil war that has divided the country into a patchwork of fiefdoms controlled by different factions, including the extremist Islamic State group. AFP PHOTO / ABD DOUMANY (Photo credit should read ABD DOUMANY/AFP/Getty Images)
In this Monday, March 16, 2015 photo, pregnant Syrian refugee Wadhah Hamada, 22, poses for a portrait inside her tent at an informal settlement near the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Mafraq, Jordan. Hamada, who fled al-Hasaka, Syria, says she has no clue how her four-month pregnancy is progressing. “I can’t afford to pay 50 Jordanian dinars ($70) for my ultrasound and other medical checks,” she says. “Our future is dark, my life is in a tent and my first child’s life won't be different.” (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
A picture taken on March 2, 2015 shows pupils attending the first day of school in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as they returned to class after Kurdish and rebel forces expelled Islamic State (IS) group jihadists from the town following more than four months of fighting. AFP PHOTO / MICHALIS KARAGIANNIS (Photo credit should read Michalis Karagiannis/AFP/Getty Images)
A Kurd stands in a building as pigeons fly over in the center of the Syrian border town of Kobane, known as Ain al-Arab, on January 28, 2015. Kurdish forces recaptured the strategic town on the Turkish frontier on January 26 in a symbolic blow for the jihadists who have seized swathes of territory in a brutal onslaught across Syria and Iraq. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
A rebel fighter holds a position in al-Mayasat, a rebel-controlled area near the industrial zone of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on February 4, 2015. Nearly four million people have been forced by war to flee Syria altogether, and millions more are living in misery in areas that have fallen out of government control. AFP PHOTO / AMC / ZEIN AL-RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
Syrian Kurdish refugee boy Arif, 10, poses on February 1, 2015 at the Rojava refugee camp in Sanliurfa. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
A Kurdish fighter walks with his child in the center of the Syrian border town of Kobane, known as Ain al-Arab, on January 28, 2015. Kurdish forces recaptured the strategic town on the Turkish frontier on January 26 in a symbolic blow for the jihadists who have seized swathes of territory in a brutal onslaught across Syria and Iraq. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke rises from the Syrian city of Kobani, following an airstrike by the US led coalition, seen from a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
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