The US Department of Defense (DoD) has suspended its programme to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels and will instead provide them weapons to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said US defence secretary Ash Carter ordered the department to supply equipment packages and weapons to a ‘select group of vetted leaders and their units so that over time they can make a concerted push into territory still controlled by ISIL.’
In a statement, Carter said he remains convinced that a lasting defeat of ISIL in Syria will depend, in part, on the success of local, motivated and capable ground forces.
He said: "I believe the changes we are instituting today will, over time, increase the combat power of counter-ISIL forces in Syria and ultimately help our campaign achieve a lasting defeat of ISIL."
Under the order, the Pentagon will monitor the progress of the groups and supply them air-support in the fight against ISIL, while evaluating the programme to make refinements and adjustments over time as appropriate.
In addition, undersecretary of defence for policy Christine Wormuth said a key part of the strategy remains involvement with ‘capable indigenous forces on the ground.’
The forces on the ground conducting offensive operations are scheduled to be provided ‘basic equipment packages’ to distribute to their fighting forces, thereby increasing their effectiveness, in combination with airstrikes.
Supported by Syrian rebels, a sustained coalition air campaign is said to have delivered results in northern Syrian towns of Kobani and Tal Abyad.
According to Wormuth, the Pentagon will still have opportunity to resume the train and equip programme in the future where situations on the ground are ‘more fruitful.’
The Pentagon had planned to train and equip more than 15,000 moderate Syrian opposition forces over at sites in Jordan, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, over the next three years.