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Less than 48 hours after U.S. military's Central Command chief Gen. Lloyd Austin testified that there are only four or five American-trained Syrian rebels currently fighting in that country, the military said four more fighters have joined the effort in Syria.
The dissolution and, in some cases, disappearance of the first class of 54 fighters trained by the U.S. as part of a $500 million program has been widely criticized in the media and on the Hill.
Central Command spokesperson Colonel Pat Ryder on Friday gave a breakdown of all 54 fighters — acknowledging for the first time that more than half of them have left the program soon after receiving training and only 20 remain in the program.
Those fighters include:
- Nine who are in Syria fighting and are receiving weapons, support, and a monetary stipend from the U.S. and coalition partners
- Eleven are still in the program but not in Syria. The U.S. military will not say where they are, citing operational security
- Fourteen are in Syria but have left the program and are fighting with other opposition groups
- Eighteen are believed to be in Syria but their whereabouts are unknown
- One is believed to be killed in action but the U.S. has no evidence to substantiate that
- And one is in al-Nusra Front captivity
Ryder insists that all of the U.S.-supplied weaponry provided to these fighters is in control of a "moderate opposition group," but he would not provide the name of the group. He also did not elaborate on how the U.S. knows the equipment is accounted for when 18 of the fighters are not.
Asked whether any of these U.S.-trained fighters have joined any terror groups, Ryder said that to the best of his knowledge none of them have.
The U.S. military is conducting a broad review of the training program.