Commander: Only '4 or 5' US Trained Rebels Left Fighting in Syria

Trying to hide the embarrassing news for weeks, a CENTCOM commander has finally come clean on the numbers of US trained Syria rebels actually fighting.

Out of the 54 original fighters trained by the US, General Lloyd Austin told a Senate hearing that "we're talking 4 or 5" who are left. The rest have been killed captured, or deserted.

And there are only about 200 fighters being trained by the US now. This means the $500 million program which was supposed to train more than 5,000 rebels this year has fallen "astoundingly short" as ABC News points out.

No more than five U.S.-trained Syrian rebels are fighting the Islamic State, astoundingly short of the envisioned 5,000, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East told angry lawmakers on Wednesday. They branded the training program "a total failure."

After the first 54 fighters were sent in to fight in July, a Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida attacked the group, killing several and taking others hostage while many fled. Asked how many remain, Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee, "It's a small number. ... We're talking four or five."

Congress has approved $500 million to train Syrian fighters, and officials have said fewer than 200 are going through training now. One of the problems has been that many Syrian fighters want training and equipment to fight the government forces of President Bashar Assad, but the U.S. program is limited to rebels who agree to only battle the militants.

The stunning admission from Austin came as defense officials scrambled separately to respond to allegations that they skewed intelligence assessments to give a rosier picture of conditions on the battlefield.

The Obama administration was already struggling to defend its military strategy to "destroy and degrade" the terrorist group with an air campaign and programs to train, assist and equip local forces. Lawmakers and Republican presidential candidates have assailed the administration, contending that it has had limited or no success in fighting the militants.

"We have to acknowledge this is a total failure," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said about the training. "I wish it weren't so, but that's the fact."

Austin told committee members that the U.S. was looking at better ways to deploy the Syrian forces, but he admitted the U.S. was not even close to reaching its goal of training 5,000-plus in the near term. He predicted it would take years to defeat IS and to restore stability in Iraq and Syria.

"OK. So we're counting on our fingers and toes at this point when we had envisioned 5,400 by the end of the year," lamented Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said earlier this year that the training program was a "critical and a complex part" of the effort to defeat ISIS. Apparently, too complex for some.

It's all smoke and mirrors anyway. Austin revealed perhaps a little more than he wanted to when responding to questions about the invisible US trained rebel army:

"We should expect that there will be occasional setbacks along the way, particularly in the early stages," he said. "And our partners, not us, are in the lead. It is taking a bit longer to get things done, but it must be this way if we are to achieve lasting and positive effects."

"Leading from behind" -- again.This is not about winning, it's about running out the clock. Take a look at CENTCOM's airstrikes today and tell me we're trying to win:

Syria

* Near Mar’a, one airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit.

* Near Abu Kamal, two airstrikes struck two ISIL oil field wellheads.

Iraq

* Near Al Baghdadi, one airstrike destroyed three ISIL rocket rails.

* Near Bayji, two airstrikes struck one large and one small ISIL tactical units, and destroyed three ISIL vehicles.

* Near Fallujah, one airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed three ISIL rockets.

* Near Hit, one airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit.

* Near Kirkuk, one airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL fighting position.

* Near Mosul, two airstrikes struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL heavy machine gun and 12 ISIL fighting positions.

* Near Sinjar, two airstrikes struck two ISIL tactical units and destroyed an ISIL motor tube and three ISIL fighting positions.

* Near Sultan Abdallah, one airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL fighting position

Vehicles...rocket rails..."tactical units"...I understand the desire to avoid civilian casualties, but this is ludicrous. The most powerful air force in the world reduced to blowing up pick up trucks and homemade rocket launchers. Pathetic.

Meanwhile, ISIS continues to fend off the Iraqi army in front of Ramadi as the "offensive" to retake the city hasn't even gotten started. This is another place the Obama administration is treading water, hoping the Iraqis can hang on until he's out of office.

This is what passes for grand strategy in the White House.