The United States was only training about 60 Syrian opposition fighters to battle Islamic State as of July 3, far below expectations, partly due to rigorous U.S. vetting of recruits, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Congress on Tuesday.
“We are looking for ways to streamline our train and equip program’s vetting process to get more recruits into the training pipeline,” Carter told a Senate hearing in prepared remarks.
Even if you vet recruits “rigorously” you should at least be able to train, say, a few thousand of them in the amount of time the administration was given. It’s not that difficult to find out whether someone’s a secret radical or not. At least, not if you know what you’re doing and have good intelligence on the ground – either from yourself or from allies. And no, I don’t accept Hot Air’s Jazz Shaw’s view that it’s impossible to vet anyone. If that were the case, they wouldn’t be vetting 7.000 people right now.
Of course that’s a useless number – it could be that 6900 are deemed unreliable, then what? – but that’s beside the point. They’re checking out thousands of recruits, which means it’s possible to do so. All those with some experience in the Middle East know that even though it’s chaotic in Syria and Iraq, people on the ground tend to know which potential fighters are closet-extremists and which aren’t. You only need a somewhat acceptable intel effort to get that kind of information.
And that leads me to the following: if the Obama administration does use the excuse that it’s difficult to vet anyone thoroughly, it means that the entire strategy to train and arm a new group of fighters won’t work. ISIS needs to be destroyed. It doesn’t matter whether this mission is accomplished by Syrian fighters or by European and American troops. It’s the result that matters, how we get there is of secondary importance (or of no importance at all). If it’s impossible to recruit tens of thousands of local warriors (which will be necessary if ISIS is to be crushed), well, the administration just has to develop an entirely new strategy, one that’s actually possible to implement.