WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama still has confidence in General Lloyd Austin, head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, and his leadership in the fight against Islamic State forces in Syria, the White House said on Thursday.
The U.S. military is coming under pressure because of setbacks in the battle against Islamic State, including a disastrous debut for a force of U.S.-trained Syrian rebels and the fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to the militant group earlier this year.
The U.S. military also faces an investigation over allegations that intelligence on the war effort was manipulated. Austin on Wednesday said he never asked for intelligence reports to be skewed to present a more positive view of the conflict.
Austin also told Congress on Wednesday that only four or five U.S.-trained Syrian rebels are still fighting in Syria.
When asked whether Obama still had confidence in Austin, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “Of course, he does.”
“General Austin, to his credit, sat before that congressional committee ... and delivered some hard news about the status of one aspect of our strategy,” Earnest told reporters at a briefing.
Earnest said the Obama administration has not relied solely on training and equipping Syrian rebels to combat Islamic State militants.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter also has “full confidence” in Austin’s ability to lead Central Command, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told a news briefing, adding that Carter admired Austin’s “candor.”
Central Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, is responsible for U.S. military operations in 20 countries stretching from Egypt to Afghanistan and including Syria and Iraq.
Earnest said Austin is considering a number of changes to the military’s training program for Syrian rebels.
“The president believes the program needs to operate at a much higher level,” Earnest said.
Reporting by Julia Edwards and Phil Stewart; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Will Dunham