Last weekend reports of CIA-backed Syrian rebels fighting Pentagon Syrian-backed militias emerged in numerous news reports. Here’s a LA Times report:
“Syrian militias armed by different parts of the U.S. war machine have begun to fight each other on the plains between the besieged city of Aleppo and the Turkish border, highlighting how little control U.S. intelligence officers and military planners have over the groups they have financed and trained in the bitter five-year-old civil war.”
War On The Rocks has a report with a very helpful map, which explains that this isn’t really the case in, “ARE CIA-BACKED SYRIAN REBELS REALLY FIGHTING PENTAGON-BACKED SYRIAN REBELS?” by Sam Heller, March 28, 2016. Heller reports:
“This is complicated, but bear with me. The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are not a monolithic force. Like nearly every other faction in Syria, they’re spread across an archipelago of enclaves nationwide. The SDF units clashing with Syrian rebels reportedly supported by the CIA are not supported by the Pentagon —they’re from a different enclave. The U.S. military is exclusively supporting the SDF in northeastern Syria on the other side of the Euphrates River. The Pentagon-backed SDF east of the Euphrates is fighting the self-proclaimed Islamic State, not rebels with or without U.S. backing.
Allow me to explain.
The confusion around this news story is a result of wartime Syria’s jigsaw-like map of control. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the SDF umbrella under which they operate are primarily active in northeastern Syria east of the Euphrates River, where they’ve linked what had been two isolated Kurdish enclaves to form a zone of control along much of Turkey’s southern border. But they also control a still-isolated enclave west of the Euphrates River in northwestern Aleppo province called Afrin, as well as a single neighborhood in Aleppo city. Afrin remains separated from YPG/SDF territory east of the Euphrates by a long stretch of Islamic State territory that the U.S. government calls the “Manbij Pocket.”
Before February, SDF units in Afrin had periodically clashed with Arab and Turkmen rebels in northern Aleppo province, including some that reportedly receive arms via a combined intelligence cell in Turkey that includes the CIA. Then, in February, the SDF in Afrin took advantage of the chaos caused by a Russian-backed regime offensive around Aleppo city to attack the rebels from the west and grab large sections of the northern Aleppo countryside. The Afrin SDF allegedly enjoyed Russian close air support against these rebels, although they have publicly denied these reports. Some clashes have persisted since then, but the new SDF-drawn lines have mostly held.”
Please go read the entire article at the War On The Rocks and look at the map, which makes the disposition of the two SDP forces much clearer and makes Heller’s explanation much easier to understand. News agencies should spend some time trying to acquire updated, accurate maps and talk to more analysts familiar with what’s going on before running with these stories. US policy assuredly has been a convoluted mess in the ME for a long time, but having some accurate facts from on the ground should always be sought and might help unravel some of the media’s added knots of misinformation.