Consider this the Solyndra of foreign policy. Pressed to do something about the Syrian civil war, the Obama administration put together a $500 million project to build up the Free Syrian Army to fight both Bashar Assad and ISIS at the same time. Only 60 fighters ever got trained, and it worked so well that almost all of them have been killed already.
Today, the New York Times reports, the White House will officially throw in the towel:
The Obama administration has ended the Pentagon’s $500 million program to train and equip Syrian rebels, administration officials said on Friday, in an acknowledgment that the beleaguered program had failed to produce any kind of ground combat forces capable of taking on the Islamic State in Syria.
Remember how this started? We sent 400 advisors to locations near Syria in order to train these fighters at the beginning of the year. The Pentagon calculated that $500 million would train 5,000 on the way to raising an army of 15,000. No, really:
The U.S. military is planning to send more than 400 soldiers to train Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State along with hundreds of U.S. support personnel, a Pentagon spokesman said on Thursday.
The training mission is expected to begin in the spring at sites outside Syria, Colonel Steve Warren said. Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have offered to host the training. …
The Pentagon has estimated that it can train more than 5,000 recruits in the first year under a $500 million program, and that up to 15,000 will be needed to retake areas of eastern Syria controlled by Islamic State.
Hey, the calculation was only off by … 98.8%. If we actually did send out 400 advisers for this program, we ended up committing almost seven times as many resources as we developed, and closer to 100 times what we have left.
So what’s next? Let’s just say the scale will be much smaller:
Instead, a much smaller training center would be set up in Turkey, where a small group of “enablers” — mostly leaders of opposition groups — would be taught operational maneuvers like how to call in airstrikes.
From whom? The Russians?
“Training thousands of infantry was not the right model, I think that’s become pretty clear,” said another senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.
Well, half-assing the response to ISIS wasn’t the model either, but it looks like we’re doubling down on that strategy while we stand aside and let Vladimir Putin prop up Bashar al-Assad for the Iranians.