WASHINGTON - A top US commander said Tuesday the Pentagon had requested permission from the Obama administration to restart the previously failed train-and-equip programme for Syrian rebels against the Islamic State (IS).

“I’ve asked for permission to restart the effort by using a different approach,” CentCom commander General Lloyd Austin, head of US forces in the Middle East, said here at a congressional hearing.

“The training would be shorter. But again, I think they would be able to greatly enable the forces once they’re reintroduced,” he said.

The Pentagon’s 500-million-dollar train-and-equip program got off to a disastrous start in Syria last July when members of the first round of 54 Syrian trainees were either killed or taken hostage by the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaida group, the Nusra Front, even before their fight against the IS started. Other remaining fighters reportedly fled.

Then, the Obama administration announced last October that it planned to halt its botched train-and-equip programme and focus on supporting forces already engaged in the fighting against the IS.

The halt was a recognition of the failure of US President Barack Obama’s flagship anti-IS training programme which initially seeks to recruit 5,400 Syrian rebels each year for three years.

During his hearing on Tuesday, Austin said the new programme would take account of lessons learned from the previous botched one.

“Part of that (the failure) was because we were taking- trying to take large numbers of people out of the fight and keep them out for training for long periods of time,” said Austin. “We’ve adjusted our approach.”