Washington training just 100 rebels to battle Isis in Syria

Less than 100 rebel fighters are currently being trained by the US military to combat Isis in Syria, the Pentagon has revealed.

The lowly numbers are a result of the stringent vetting procedures in Washington's newly-established training programme of rebels to battle the radical Islamist group on the ground in the civil-war-torn country.

The training of Syrian opposition fighters by US military personnel was initiated in Jordan in May before being expanded to include Turkey. The aim of the programme is to create a force that can tackle the radical Islamist group, who have captured large parts of Syria, as opposed to battling the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Last September, US Congress approved $500m (€451m) as part of President Barack Obama's plan to arm and equip up to 10,000 "moderate" fighters in Syria, although it remains unclear how much of the funding has been used on training the rebels so far.

However, Pentagon figures show that, of 6,000 Syrian volunteers to the programme, just 1,500 had passed the preliminary vetting process to qualify for the training and, of that group, fewer than 100 have been accepted to begin training. It remains unclear why the other 1,400 rebels were not accepted to train on the programme.

Washington's top military leader, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, said at a press briefing Wednesday that the US would not "take any shortcuts" in finding the trustworthy and reliable rebels they would train and equip.

"We need credible, moderate partners on the ground. So we are always looking for the opportunity to develop those partnerships," said Dempsey at the joint press briefing with US Defense Secretary Ash Carter, without elaborating on whether the programme would be accelerated or not.

"We certainly won't take any shortcuts on vetting, however, because of the risk that would pose not only to our own forces, but to the ultimate objectives we are trying to achieve," he added.

Defending the low number of rebels accepted to train on the programme, Dempsey suggested that the number may increase when the holy Islamic month of Ramadan concludes as dozens of recruits had left to return to their families for the holiday. "There's a lot of folks that are interested in being with their families during that period, and so we may see after Ramadan that some of the ones we lost may come back," he said.

The total number of rebels currently training with US personnel in Jordan and Turkey falls way short of the desired target. Washington has said it hopes to see 5,400 rebels pass through the programme every year for three years.

Tor Soltvedt, principal Middle East and North Africa analyst at global risk analytics company Verisk Maplecroft, says that even if the programme was meeting its recruitment targets, he believes it would still have little impact on the ground as the the numbers are simply not enough to compete with the large number of jihadist groups in Syria.

"It's clearly not a viable program at all. For this to work, it will need to be scaled up quite dramatically and it doesn't seem like that is a realistic prospect any time soon," he says. "I really struggle to see how this program is going to have any sort of impact on the conflict in Syria if it stays in its current form."

"The sheer numbers just aren't enough. You're looking at years before the programme has any significant impact," he adds. "Any kind of US trained group operating in Syria will be a pretty huge target for a wide range of groups, such as the (al-Qaeda-linked) Nusra Front."

In comparison to the small numbers of moderate rebels being trained in Syria, the US-run programme in Iraq is much more successful. More than 10,000 Iraqi forces have passed through training programmes at a number of locations in the country, where a US-led coalition and local forces are also battling the terror group.