- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Hundreds of Sunni fighters are being trained to fight against the Islamic State by U.S. advisers who recently deployed to Al Taqaddum Air Base in Iraq, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told lawmakers on Tuesday.

But while the number of Sunnis being trained increases, the program to train fighters in both Iraq and Syria is still struggling to get enough recruits, he said.

President Obama announced last month that 450 additional troops would deploy to Al Taqaddum, an old air base used by the U.S. during the Iraq War. The troops are providing advice and assistance to Iraqis trying to retake Ramadi and other key areas of Anbar province, as well as facilitating cooperation between Sunnis and Shiites and preparing Iraqis to train other members of their tribes.

Mr. Carter said 350 of the authorized 450 additional troops have already deployed. With the help of those troops, the Iraqi government has armed 800 Sunni fighters and is training 500 additional fighters at Al Taqaddum. Another 500 fighters have already been identified to receive training after the current group, he said.

“We are pleased with our early efforts. We will continue to work to ensure that these Sunni fighters, which are critical to the success of our campaign, have the training and equipment needed to effectively fight ISIL,” Mr. Carter told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, using another acronym for the Islamic State.

Despite the success at Al Taqaddum, training in other parts of Iraq and Syria has struggled to reach the goal number of recruits. As of June 30, Mr. Carter said U.S. trainers in Iraq have only received enough recruits to train 8,800 Iraqi soldiers and Peshmerga forces, in addition to 2,000 counter terrorism service personnel. An additional 4,000 soldiers, including 600 counter terrorism forces, are currently in training.

Mr. Carter said the efforts of the 3,550 U.S. troops in Iraq at six different locations have been slowed because of the lack of recruits.

“I’ve told Iraqi leaders that while the United States is open to supporting Iraq more than we already are, we must see a greater commitment from all parts of the Iraqi government,” he said.

Recruitment in Syria has been even worse. While about 7,000 Syrian volunteers are currently being vetted for training, Mr. Carter said only 60 fighters are in the training now.

“This number is much smaller than we hoped for at this point, partly because of the vetting standards,” Mr. Carter said.

Syrian volunteers must show a commitment to fight the Islamic State, pass a counterintelligence screening and meet other standards required by U.S. law, he said. These standards, which Mr Carter said he supports, ensure trainers aren’t threatened by a so-called green-on-blue attack from the Syrians they train.

The secretary also said the vetting of Syrians will move quicker as vetters and trainers get more experience going through the process.

“It’s going to take some time obviously to get the numbers up to where they’ll have an effect,” Mr. Carter said.

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