US needs to train 30,000 local forces in Syria

US needs to train 30,000 local forces in Syria

Gen. Joe Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks on transformations in the military during a forum Thursday (DoD screen shot)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. needs to train at least 30,000 local forces in Syria to hold the gains and prevent a resurgence of ISIS, the Pentagon’s top military person said.

Gen. Joseph Dunford also said the direct U.S. military effort in Syria could be extended indefinitely. “The presence we have in Syria right now is sustainable and can be adjusted based on conditions,” Dunford said Thursday.

Dunford is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He joined Steven Walker, the head of DARPA, at a Washington Post forum that discussed transformations in the military.

The Pentagon has about 3,000 troops in Syria, the majority are special forces, officials have previously said.

The ground battle against ISIS in Syria has been unchanged for months as the US-led coalition has cornered the terrorists in their last redoubt along the Euphrates River in eastern Syria. Pentagon officials say there about between 2,000 and 3,000 remaining ISIS fighters they are trying to dislodge and kill.

Dunford said the U.S has trained about a fifth of a force of about 35,000 to 40,000 local troops needed to keep parts of Syria liberated by the coalition to remain ISIS-free.

Dunford also said he has not spoken to his Russian counterpart following Moscow’s seizure of Ukrainian ships and personnel in the Black Sea more than a week ago.

“It says a lot about Russia’s respect of international norms and standards,” Dunford said. “What took place in the Sea of Azov (Black Sea) is consistent with a pattern of behavior that really goes back to Georgia, the Crimea and the Donbass in the Ukraine.”

The U.S. is considering sailing Navy ships into the Black Sea region as a show of force, the Pentagon said Wednesday. On Thursday, the US flew an unarmed surveillance plane over Ukraine in a symbolic gesture.

Dunford said the Russians continue to test international norms to see just how much they can get away with increasing violations of sovereignty. “We refer to this as a competition that falls short of armed conflict,” he said.

Dunford also acknowledged what has been outlined by recent Pentagon and independent reports as to how the U.S. military has lost some competitive advantage in key areas, such as artificial intelligence.

“Our overall competitive advantage has reduced,” Dunford said. He underscored that “whoever has a competitive advantage in artificial intelligence and can field systems (could) very well have an overall competitive advantage.”

Walker said DARPA’s AI program is still in its infancy with scant capacity for acting independently.

“At least in the Defense Department today, we don’t see machines doing anything by themselves,” Walkter said. He said that DARPA scientists are intensely focused on building “human-machine” partnerships.

“I think we’re a long way off from a generalized AI, even in the third wave in what we’re pursuing,” Walker said.

DARPA, which stands for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is focusing its AI work on crafting “human-machine” partnerships, Walker said.

“How do you give machines that sort of common sense is the next place DARPA is headed,” Walker said. “It’s going to be critical if we really want machines to be partners to the humans and not just tools.”

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