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Miller: Redirect rebel aid to screen Syrian refugees

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Republican Rep. Candice Miller of Harrison Township is urging the Pentagon to redirect its funding for training Syrian rebels to improving intelligence gathering to aid in the vetting of Syrian refugees seeking to enter the United States.

Pentagon officials said Friday they were abandoning training for as many as 5,400 rebels inside Syria to combat the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, saying unspent money for the $500 million campaign would go instead toward providing equipment and weapons to groups already fighting on the ground.

A Pentagon spokesman said the U.S. would monitor the groups’ progress and provide them with air support.

“I remain convinced that a lasting defeat of ISIL in Syria will depend in part on the success of local, motivated and capable ground forces,” Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement.

Miller, who is vice chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, said while she supports efforts to train more successful fighters such as the Kurds, she believes the unused resources authorized for the rebel training program should instead be used to boost intelligence for screening refugees from the region seeking to relocate to the United States.

Last month, the Obama administration committed to accepting at least 10,000 more Syrian refugees during the next year. The United States will welcome 85,000 refugees from around the world in 2016, up from 70,000, and the ceiling would rise to 100,000 in 2017.

Some lawmakers, such as U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, want the Obama administration to further increase the number of refugees from war-ravaged Syria and to give higher priority to resettling persecuted minorities from Syria and Iraq.

Miller says too little of U.S. intelligence on many refugee applicants is “credible,” and she worries about possible connections they have to one of the terrorist organizations operating in the region.

“We need to dedicate more resources to improve [intelligence] so that we can protect our citizens against terrorists looking to exploit our hospitality," Miller said in a statement.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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