The US military is preparing to send its first batch of trained militants into Syria in the next several weeks as a ground force against extremist groups, according to a report.
American and allied forces are finishing the training of the first group of so-called “moderate” militants in Turkey, a US military official told The Washington Post on condition of anonymity.
The fighters, numbering fewer than 100, will be sent south into neighboring Syria by the end of the summer, the official said.
The so-called train and equip program has gotten off to a slow start, falling way behind its stated target of producing 5,400 trained militants a year. The US Congress approved $500 million for the program in September 2014.
The military official told The Post that the slow start was “disappointing,” but added that it illustrated the vigorous vetting process designed to weed out unsuited candidates.
"We think the program will be successful in the long run because we give them a qualitative advantage" with new combat skills and weapons, the official said. "That's the draw of the program — not quantity, but quality."
Military officials said last week that they still hoped for training 3,000 militants by the end of the year, but privately acknowledged the trend was moving in the wrong direction, The Associated Press reported.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Pentagon leaders highlighted the problems the US military was facing in recruiting and training militants for Syria.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said dozens of trainees have quit during the month of Ramadan that began in mid-June.
"At the end of the day, we need credible, moderate partners on the ground," he said. "We certainly won't take any shortcuts on vetting.”
A task force, made up of US military, intelligence and law enforcement officials, has been vetting a group of more than 6,000 individuals, who initially expressed interest in the training program.
At the same briefing, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the US strategy “will both provide for the victory over ISIL (Daesh) or the defeat of ISIL."
Analysts say many of the US-trained militants could eventually find themselves on the side of extremist Daesh fighters against a common enemy on the ground —the Syrian government forces.
Editor's note: This article has been edited from the source material.
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