The Pentagon is once again outsourcing a war, this time not to U.S. defense contractors but to Syrian moderates, who are being lured to fight against Islamic State militants with American dollars from The Pentagon’s budget.
Navy Commander Elissa Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said they will be paid $250 to $400 each per month, depending on skills, performance and leadership qualities. Training of the first group of about 90 fighters began last month with preparation for battle expected to take several months.
Training is taking place in countries that neighbor Syria, including Jordan.
Smith said The Pentagon expects to have 3,000 fighters trained by year’s end. The goal for 12 months is 5,400.
“For operational security, we will not announce when coalition-trained Syrian opposition forces enter into Syria,” she said.
Approximately 6,000 Syrians volunteers have stepped forward for the training program. Of that number more than 4,000 are waiting to be vetted, Smith said.
A small well trained force could make a difference in Syria, according to David Phillips, director of Columbia University’s Peace-Building and Rights Program.
“They’re not fighting a large army,” he said. “Even small numbers can be effective on the battlefield. Nobody envisions this to be an easy or quick win. Developing a nucleus of capable fighters is the right way to start.”
Efforts to field competent, trained forces in Iraq to fight the Islamic State, known as ISIL and ISIS are also progressing slowly. The Pentagon had wanted to field 24,000 new Iraqi security forces by fall. Only 9,000 have signed up to train.
The training program which has been called “critical” by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, had been put on the back burner for several months because finding and vetting fighters who were prepared to adhere to laws of war and promise to conduct themselves properly, had proved difficult.