WASHINGTON — Sens. Mike Lee, Joe Manchin, Chris Murphy and Tom Udall sent a letter Friday to U.S. Department of Defense secretary Ash Carter, U.S. Department of State secretary John Kerry and Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan urging them to end the Syria Train and Equip Program, which has endangered Americans and further escalated conflict in the region.
The Syria Train and Equip Program is an unsuccessful effort to train and equip Syrian opposition fighters, according to a press release.
Lee, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been critical of this program since its inception and has closely monitored its implementation and results over the past year. He spoke out on the Senate floor in 2014 against then-Majority Leader Harry Reid’s inclusion of the program’s funding in a must-pass Continuing Resolution, calling the Senate’s failure to fully and openly debate this measure “a gross dereliction of duty.”
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Video courtesy of the offices of Sen. Mike Lee, St. George News
“The Syria Train and Equip Program goes beyond simply being an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars,” the senators said in the letter. “As many of us initially warned, it is now aiding the very forces we aim to defeat. On Friday, USCENTCOM confirmed that some of the fighters that we trained and equipped had turned over ammunition and trucks to al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, Al Nusra Front. In exchange for safe passage, the fighters, trained by the U.S., gave up approximately 25% of their U.S.-issued equipment.”
The full text of the Senators’ letter is included below:
Dear Secretary Carter, Secretary Kerry, and Director Brennan:
We write to express our deep concern about the Syria Train and Equip Program and to call for an end to this failed initiative. When Congress was considering the program last year, many of us expressed concerns about this program endangering Americans and further escalating the conflict. The evidence further supports our belief. It is time for the Department to find a new path forward.
Authorized at $500 million for Fiscal Year 2015, the program has struggled to graduate “vetted” opposition fighters. When General Lloyd Austin III, the commander of United States Central Command (USCENTCOM), recently testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said that only “four or five” U.S.-trained opposition fighters were on the ground fighting in Syria. It has since been reported that another 75 United States-trained rebels have entered the fight, but this is still a far cry from the 5,000 fighters the program aimed to train each year.
The Syria Train and Equip Program goes beyond simply being an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. As many of us initially warned, it is now aiding the very forces we aim to defeat. On Friday, USCENTCOM confirmed that some of the fighters that we trained and equipped had turned over ammunition and trucks to al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Al Nusra Front. In exchange for safe passage, the fighters, trained by the U.S., gave up approximately 25% of their U.S.-issued equipment.
With over 200,000 persons killed, 4 million refugees, and 7.6 million internally displaced people, the situation in Syria is absolutely tragic, and we must ensure that any U.S. efforts do not cause additional harm. We ask that you cease the Syria Train and Equip Program and look for alternative ways forward.
Contact: Emily Long (Lee), 202-224-3904
Jonathan Kott (Manchin), 202-228-1810
Laura Maloney (Murphy), 202-228-1056
Jennifer Talhelm (Udall), 202-228-6870
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