Back in July we learned that the Pentagon’s effort to train and equip properly “vetted” Syrian rebels to combat ISIS had suffered an embarrassing setback when the group’s commander and deputy commander were captured by al-Nusra.
"We, and the Sunni people in Syria, will not allow their sacrifices to be offered on a golden platter to the American side,” the group said, on the way to advising the US to give up on the program.
As it turns out, that was good advice because less than two months later, Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of the U.S. Central Command and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth admitted to Congress that the effort to recruit and field a force of more than 5,000 anti-ISIS fighters by year end wasn’t on track. When asked how many soldiers trained under the program (which was launched in May) were still operating in Syria, Austin said the total was probably “four or five.”
“Let’s not kid ourselves, that’s a joke. This is just a total failure,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said.
Training those “four or five” freedom fighters has so far cost US taxpayers north of $40 million, and as we noted earlier this month, it’s important to take note of the sheer absurdity inherent in al-Nusra capturing the group’s leaders over the summer:
Effectively, the newest group of US-trained Syrian fighters was on their way to fight ISIS, another group of US-trained Syrian fighters, when their leaders were captured by al-Nusra, an offshoot of al-Qaeda, whose founder and allies received US support during the Soviet-Afghan war.
Well, just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get any more ridiculous, the Pentagon now says the “four or five” fighters still operating under the latest effort to train “moderate” Syrian rebels were forced to hand over six “pickup trucks” and an ammo cache to al-Qaeda in order to secure safe passage to who knows where. Here’s Reuters:
Syrian rebels trained by the United States gave some of their equipment to the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in exchange for safe passage, a U.S. military spokesman said on Friday, the latest blow to a troubled U.S. effort to train local partners to fight Islamic State militants.
The rebels surrendered six pick-up trucks and some ammunition, or about one-quarter of their issued equipment, to a suspected Nusra intermediary on Sept. 21-22 in exchange for safe passage, said Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, in a statement.
"If accurate, the report of NSF members providing equipment to al Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train and equip program guidelines," Ryder said, using an acronym for the rebels, called the New Syrian Forces.
U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East, was told of the equipment surrender around 1 p.m. on Friday, Ryder said. Earlier on Friday, Ryder had said all weapons and equipment issued to the rebels remained under their control.
The news was the most recent sign of trouble in a fledgling military effort to train fighters to take on the Islamic State militant group in Syria, where a 4-1/2-year civil war has killed about 250,000 people and caused nearly half of Syria's prewar population of 23 million to flee.
A top U.S. general told Congress last week that only a handful of the rebels are still fighting in Syria, though U.S. military officials said this week that dozens more have since joined them.
U.S. officials have told Reuters that a review is underway that could result in scaling back and reenvisioning the program.
Yes, it may indeed be time to think about “scaling back” the program, although we would note that this is one program which seems to be on the way to scaling itself back so perhaps it's best to just let it continue to self destruct and lest anyone should think that this story isn't set to get still more absurd, we present the following from The Guardian who notes that the British security think tank Royal United Services Institute is now out claiming that Russia's earnest effort to rout ISIS (as opposed to Washington's half-hearted containment strategy that essentially gives the group just enough rope to ensure the Assad regime remains under seige) will somehow promote terrorism:
The deployment of Russian troops in Syria could end up helping Islamic State as they have been sent to areas where they are most likely to fight other groups opposed to Isis, according to a new report.
The Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) report comes ahead of a US-Russian summit meeting at the UN on Monday, when Barack Obama will question Vladimir Putin on the intention behind Russia’s deepening military involvement in Syria, according to US officials.
The Rusi report, titled Inherently Unresolved, assesses the global effort to counter the spread of Isis, and warns that Iraq and Syria may not survive as unitary states. It includes a section on Russian aims, particularly those underpinning Putin’s despatch this month of warplanes and troops to Tartus and Latakia in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Igor Sutyagin, a Russian strategic analyst, said there was an air regiment at Latakia with 28 planes, a battalion of motorised infantry and military engineers as well as a marine battalion at the naval base in Tartus.
The deployment, Sutyagin said, “underlines the contradictions of the Kremlin’s policy”, because the troops were in areas where Isis is not present.
“In this way, Russian troops are backing Assad in the fight against groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, which are themselves opposed to Isis. If Russian troops do eventually join combat, therefore, they would also – technically – be assisting Isis,” Sutyagin argued.
We'll simply close with a quote from the Russian foreign ministry's sharp-tongued spokeswoman Maria Zakharova:
"First we were accused of providing arms to the so-called 'bloody regime that was persecuting democratic activists'. Now it's a new edition - we are supposedly harming the fight against terrorism. That is complete rubbish."