A few days ago I posted links to Patrick Poole’s reporting on the embarrassing state of our “training Syrian moderates to be our boots on the ground in Syria project”. Back in 2014, I wrote several posts on the Syrian moderate project, here, here, here, here and here. From “Obama’s mercurial foreign policy”, the following quote from Marc Lynch, director of Middle Eastern Studies and the Project on Middle East Political Science at Georgetown University stated in an article, “Would arming Syria’s rebels have stopped the Islamic State” :
“The idea that these rebel groups could be vetted for moderation and entrusted with advanced weaponry made absolutely no sense given the realities of the conflict in Syria. These local groups frequently shifted sides and formed alliances of convenience as needed. As MIT’s Fotini Christia has documented in cases from Afghanistan to Bosnia, and the University of Virginia’s Jonah Shulhofer-Wohl has detailed in Syria, rebel groups that lack a legitimate and effective over-arching institutional structure almost always display these kinds of rapidly shifting alliances and “blue on blue” violence. A “moderate, vetted opposition” means little when alliances are this fluid and organizational structures so weak.”
It seems obvious that due to the brutal nature of this Syrian civil war, at this late date “moderates” either fled or were killed and hopes that “moderates” will stand a chance against battle-hardened fighters, who pay no heed to the Geneva Conventions or any other sort of international humanitarian pleas rests as wishful thinking rather than rational policy. Despite the obvious, the Obama administration, some in Congress and even some in the Pentagon remain convinced that training Syrian “moderates” will work.
The neighborhood in that region just became more complicated, while this White House and many in Congress don’t even have any clue as to the history of the region, the complicated dynamics between various factions, or understand how our pathetic strategy leads other leaders in that region to quickly recalibrate their own national security concerns and alliances. After watching President Obama’s mercurial and duplicitous dealings with other leaders in the region, all of those leaders seem to be hedging their bets, because they can’t trust the United States.
Testifying before Congress recently, Ash Carter was asked about the Syrian moderates training, Politico reports:
“We have enough training sites. We don’t have enough trainees to fill them,” Carter told the House Armed Services Committee. The U.S. is applying a stringent process to screen “moderate” Syrians to ensure those fighters who join will be reliable, he said, which is one reason why the process is taking so long.
Carter and Dempsey responded to a question from Illinois Democrat Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who said she had many reservations about the Syrian train-and-equip program for which Congress authorized $500 million last year. How will the U.S. support the “moderate” units once they’re in combat, she asked. Who will continue to supply them with NATO-grade ammunition, she asked, given they’ll be using U.S. or European-style rifles as opposed to Russian-style AK-47s?
Dempsey said the administration is determining the answers to these and other outstanding questions but hasn’t yet arrived at any conclusions.
Carter also didn’t have an answer for what happens if these Syrian moderates engage with Assad’s forces, a likely scenario given the close proximity. He didn’t know if the US would offer air support or other support to these Syrian moderates if they engage with Assad’s forces rather than ISIS. As Patrick Poole reported in recent days, our first batch of Syrian moderates appear to have been captured by Al Nusra. This first trial run will most assuredly dry up the well of future Syrian “moderates” volunteering to join our fight against ISIS, unless they join as a ruse to acquire US military training and weapons. This quick capture might be a ruse too and it’s very possible these first volunteers were not really “moderates” in the first place. The US has already been duped numerous times by “moderates”. In 2014 Jamal Maaroof was touted: “Meet Jamal Maarouf, the West’s best fighting chance against Syria’s Islamist armies”. After receiving US training and weapons, to include TOW anti-tank missiles, Maaroof struck a peace deal with ISIS.
In light of this slow-motion train wreck, Obama’s war against ISIS policy, comes internal tremors within Turkey with terrorist attacks, rising ethnic tensions, porous border issues, and an escalating refugee crisis. The Turks finally joined the war against ISIS in deed, rather than just word, but along with bombing ISIS, they’ve targeted Kurds too. The American simplistic take on foreigners runs something like the Kurds are noble warriors (good guys), despite the Kurds being numerous diverse groups, religiously and politically. The PKK, a Turkish Kurdish group, are designated terrorists by both the United States and Turkey and they will be a prime Turkish target. The Iraqi Kurdish leader, President Masoud Barzani condemned the Turkish attacks, but he also urged the PKK to remove themselves from civilian areas in the region, to keep the battlefield away from civilians.
Courtesy of JK are some helpful links to make more sense out of the Turkish viewpoint and also information on the Kurds:
This is a helpful link that’s basically, “understanding the Kurds for Dummies”
Here’s a May report from the International Crisis Group, “Arming Iraq’s Kurds: Fighting IS, Inviting Conflict”
In typical Obama leading from behind fashion, last week the press reported on Obama’s “safe zone” plan”, to create a zone along Syria’s northwest border with Turkey for Syrian refugees to safely return to Syria. Of course, the details of who would protect this “safe zone” were like every other strategy from this administration – to be ironed out later. On July 28, 2015, Josh Rogin in Bloomberg reported:
“Days after the U.S. and Turkey announced a breakthrough deal to fight together against the Islamic State, U.S. officials are insisting that — contrary to reports — there are definitely no U.S. plans for a “safe zone” inside Syria. In fact, there really is no “zone,” and there is no plan to keep the area “safe.”
This confusion is a microcosm of the disorganized U.S. approach to the Islamic State threat since last summer. Each incremental escalation into which the U.S. gets dragged in Syria seems poorly thought out and even more poorly explained. Until the Barack Obama administration can reconcile the different objectives among the members of its anti-Islamic-State coalition, the various partners will continue to work at cross-purposes. In this case, for the U.S., the Islamic State is the one and only priority; for Turkey, the imperative is protecting civilians from Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime and eventually forcing its exit.”
Here are three more articles on Turkey and the Islamic State worth reading (H/T JK):
From War on the Rocks: “What’s eating Turkey? Ankara and the Islamic State”
From World Affairs: “The War Arrives in Turkey”
So, once again, we have the infamous leading from behind from the White House and the “I was for them, before I was against them” strategic genius emanating from the mist at Foggy Bottom. No plan, no strategic vision, no clue what’s in this agreement, just like no clue what’s in the agreement with Iran.
My assessment: “FUBAR!”