The Defense Department has finally provided a price tag for its deeply troubled program to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to battle the Islamic State.
In a statement to DOD Buzz, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said that through May 30 the agency had spent “$41.8 million to fund the training and equipping of the vetted Syrian opposition.” He added that the department was working to get updated cost figures.
That dollar amount, which previously had been a closely guarded secret, represents only the amount of work done prior to Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s admission to the Senate Armed Services Committee in July that the effort had graduated fewer than 60 recruits.
The amount spent on the program has no doubt increased, with a second and third class now in training. Cook reportedly declined to provide specifics about the size of each class, but said “we are working on vetting additional cohorts beyond that.”
Congress approved $500 million for the effort last year on the premise that the Pentagon would have over 3,000 opposition fighters on the ground in Syria by the end of the calendar year.
President Obama considers the program to be a key pillar of his strategy to degrade and defeat ISIS without committing U.S. ground forces to Iraq or Syria.
In July, the first group of graduates from the program entered Syria and were quickly attacked by an al Qaeda-affiliated group. Pentagon officials have admitted they have had trouble keeping track of the rebels since they crossed back into Turkey and aren’t quite sure what they are up to right now.
The string of embarrassments has prompted the Pentagon to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the program, which is increasingly seen as a military and policy failure in Washington and among anti-ISIS ally nations.
It’s unclear when exactly the examination will wrap up or if the administration will chose to abandon the effort all together. For the time being, the effort will be held up by White House opponents as a prime example that the president has no real strategy for defeating ISIS.