Boehner Slams Syrian Rebel Program, Offers No New Strategy

Boehner's team canceled Friday votes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Boehner's team canceled Friday votes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted July 8, 2015 at 11:58am

Speaker John A. Boehner stopped short of calling for U.S. ground troops to combat Islamic State terror group fighters, but the Ohio Republican made it clear Wednesday he doesn’t think President Barack Obama’s strategy in the Middle East is working.  

With recent reports that only 60 Syrians have been trained to combat ISIS, Boehner was asked if he was open to the idea of putting American soldiers on the ground. “No,” Boehner said, “I think that the initiative, which is the president’s, basically his anchor, in his strategy isn’t working.  

“And the fact is,” Boehner continued, “we need to recruit more fighters from Syria, and we need to get ’em trained. That’s the sum total of it.”  

Pressed again on whether he’d be open to troops on the ground, Boehner said the “first step” was to get Syrians trained to fight ISIS.  

That strategy isn’t markedly different from Obama’s — even if Boehner said the president’s plan wasn’t working — but the speaker did offer that, in addition to training Syrian soldiers, there are the ongoing efforts to train Iraqi soldiers.  

“What’s needed on the Iraqi side is a little more engagement rather than just solely training,” the Ohio Republican said.  

He didn’t specify what exactly that meant, but there is wide acknowledgment that roughly 60 Syrian fighters is insufficient to combat ISIS.  

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, agreed that 60 wasn’t a significant number, but he did say there were 7,000 prospective recruits, and that the goal of the United States is train and equip 5,400 rebels annually for the next three years.  

The rebel-training program was appropriated $500 million for fiscal 2015 — coming out to $8.3 million a rebel, if the 60 trainees number holds true — and the program is slated for another $600 million for fiscal 2016.