World Press

There are only four or five American-trained Syrian rebels currently fighting against the Islamic State, the top general leading the effort to build a force to counter the militant group in Syria said Wednesday.

The tiny number of fighters are part of the New Syrian Force, the byproduct of a $500-million-dollar train and equip program that was launched officially in December to train moderate Syrians to fight the Islamic State.

The remarks by Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, angered members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who said the program is a failure.

The training first came under scrutiny in July when Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter told the Senate Armed Service Committee that only 60 fighters had been trained with roughly 7,000 in the training pipeline. The quota, set at the program’s outset, called for 3,000 to 5,000 fighters to be trained in the first year.

Carter claimed the slow going was due in part to a stringent vetting process for the Syrians, which included a polygraph and background checks.

A few weeks after Carter’s July remarks, the first element of roughly 50 American-trained fighters, re-entered Syria, after completing their training in Turkey. By the end of the month the fledgling force had been attacked by the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat-Al Nusra, and a number of the rebels were seized by the Nusra group.

Christine E. Wormuth, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy told the committee the initial plan for developing a 12,000-strong New Syrian Force may be abandoned.

Instead she spoke about a strategy — described in a Foreign Policy article Wednesday — in which future fighters trained by the United States will embed with other moderate groups — such as Syrian Kurdish fighters — but in much smaller numbers. The individuals would take on an adviser role, much like American Special Operation Forces, and would help train other fighters in addition to assisting with coordinating coalition airstrikes.

Both Austin and Wormuth testified that the second class of fighters only has 120 Syrians enrolled.

“We expect the New Syrian Force’s footprint to grow over time,” said Austin.

The United States government has pledged to increase the number of worldwide refugees allowed in the country each year from 70,000 to 100,000 by the year 2017; earlier this month, the Obama administration said it would take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year.

(September 13, 2015 - MAKKAH)  As the holy city of Makkah struggled to return to normalcy a day after a deadly crane collapse at the Grand Mosque claimed 107 lives and injured nearly 238 pilgrims, the focus shifted to the difficult and unpleasant task of identifying the dead.

So far, only two pilgrims have been identified from among the dead. They are Moniza Ahmed from West Bengal, India, and Muameena Ismail from Kerala, India. Both women were identified by Indian Haj Mission personnel in Makkah.

While diplomats from many countries were able to identify the injured, there were few or no reports about the identification of the dead.

The reason was simple. The Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indonesians sent their representatives to the three main hospitals where the injured and the dead were taken immediately after the tragedy. The three hospitals are Al-Noor Specialist Hospital, King Faisal (Al-Shisha) Hospital and Al-Zahir Hospital.

At the hospitals, the representatives of different countries personally spoke to the injured and took down their details and thus, some information about the injured was released. Pakistan released a list of 16 injured, India 19, Bangladesh 40, Indonesia 30, Iran 15 and Malaysia 10.

But what about those who died? Why have they still not been identified? All the injured and the dead were taken to the three hospitals. From there, the dead were moved to a morgue near Mina. It is there in Mina that the faces of the dead will be photographed. Other details from identification badges that the pilgrims were wearing at the time of the tragedy will also be assessed. Once these photographs are released, the foreign consulates will match them with the photos of those who have been listed as missing.

That has not yet been done and so the breakdown of the nationalities of the dead has not been released.

On Saturday, all consulates prepared a list of those who are still missing. The procedure was simple. The consulates have details of all incoming pilgrims and where they are staying in Makkah. Each building where the pilgrims were put up was visited by representatives of the consulates. The names of those who had gone to the Holy Mosque on Friday and had not returned were listed as missing. Those names were then compared and tallied with the list of those on the injured list.

The ones who are not on the list of the injured and who are still missing maybe presumed dead. Once the photographs of the dead are released, it will be easier to identify the victims and then the burials can take place.

Almost all pilgrims have a metallic wrist band that they should wear at all times. These metallic bands have the names of their buildings and the identities of their Haj guides. It has, however, been noticed in the past that all pilgrims do not wear the bands.
The immediate focus of the authorities was to provide the best possible medical care and to restore the affected area in the Grand Mosque.

Within one hour of the tragedy on Friday, pilgrims were back in the mosque in huge numbers circumambulating the Holy Kaaba at the center of the mosque.

More Articles ...

Page 1 of 4