On Monday, the Pentagon proudly announced that it had “successfully” delivered 50 tons (yes, tons) of ammo to rebels fighting the Assad regime in Syria.
Before going any further, it’s important to note that the move to publicly deliver ammunition to the groups fighting the Russians set off alarm bells even among the most mainstream of media with CNN running the following headline as though the notion that the conflict is just another proxy war were somehow “news”: “Syria's 'proxy war' rages in towns near Aleppo, Syria.”
So “all” it took was for Russia to invade and for the US to brag about handing “tons” of ammo to the very groups Moscow is fighting for the clueless public to come to the shocking realization that Washington is effectively at war with Moscow in Syria.
Obviously that’s not news, as it’s been clear to anyone who knows anything about geopolitics for years, but what is news is the extent to which the ammo paradrops mark a new low point for Washington in terms of countering Assad. As we put it on Monday:
The US has now thrown in the towel on the ill-fated (and that’s putting it lightly) strategy of training Syrian fighters and sending them into battle only to be captured and killed by other Syrian fighters who the US also trained.
The Pentagon’s effort to recruit 5,400 properly “vetted” anti-ISIS rebels by the end of the year ended in tears when word got out that only “four or five” of these fighters were actually still around. The rest are apparently either captured, killed, lost in the desert, or fighting for someone else.
Because this latest program was such a public embarrassment, the Pentagon had to come up with a new idea to assist Syria’s “freedom fighters” now that they are fleeing under bombardment by the Russian air force only to be cut down by Hezbollah.
The newest plan: helicopter ammo. No, really. The US has now resorted to dropping "tons" of ammo into the middle of nowhere and hoping the “right” people find it.
In funnier terms: The US just paradropped 50 tons of ammo on pallets into the most dangerous place on the face of the planet with no way of ensuring that it falls into the "right" hands.
The absurdity of that wasn’t lost on Putin, who offered the following critique on Tuesday: “U.S. air drops of weapons and ammunition intended for the Syrian Free Army, which is fighting Assad’s regime, could end up in the hands of Islamic State instead.”
And then on Wednesday, Turkey pitched a fit, with PM Ahmet Davutoglu proclaiming that “Turkey definitely can’t accept weapons aid to groups linked to PKK.”
Of course that declaration from Ankara seemed to come out of left field because after all, the US claimed the ammo and weapons were retrieved by the “Syrian Arab Coalition”, not the YPG.
Well, as it turns out, the “Syrian Arab Coalition” (which apparently didn’t even exist until last Friday) conveniently merged with the YPG over the weekend.
Consider the following from Reuters:
A Kurdish militia in northern Syria has joined forces with Arab rebels, and their new alliance has been promised fresh weapon supplies by the United States for an assault on Islamic State forces in Raqqa, a spokesman said on Monday.
The alliance calling itself the Democratic Forces of Syria includes the Kurdish YPG militia and Syrian Arab groups, some of which fought alongside it in a campaign that drove Islamic State from wide areas of northern Syria earlier this year.
The Arab groups in the new alliance are operating under the name "The Syrian Arab Coalition" - a grouping which U.S. officials have said would receive support under a new U.S. strategy aimed at fighting Islamic State in Syria.
What happened here is that the US knew it couldn’t directly arm the YPG without infuriating Ankara, so Washington tried to say that the YPG had now aligned itself with various (likely fictional) “Syrian Arab groups” and so therefore, Erdogan shouldn’t mind if the US hands them a few tons of weapons.
So yeah, the hits just keep on coming. In July, NATO agreed to allow Erdogan to crack down on the Kurds in exchange for access to Incirlik. But because the Kurdish PKK has ties to YPG, Ankara wouldn’t be happy with the US supporting the Syrian Kurds anymore. Of course some of the sorties the US intended to fly from Incirlik were almost certainly meant to support the YPG, so it’s unclear how anyone ever thought this was going to work from the beginning unless the US intended to fly missions in support of YPG from a Turkish airbase and then lie to Turkey about who those missions were supporting.
Once the “train and equip” program crashed and burned, the US wanted to arm the Kurds again. Unfortunately, we’re now two weeks away from elections in Turkey so there was no way Erdogan was going risk 50 tons of weapons and ammo being channeled to a group with ties to the PKK.
Washington’s solution: create a fictional alliance between YPG and some “Syrian Arabs” who probably don’t even exist, and then use that alliance as a front. It was a make-believe militant merger.
If you think that sounds too far-fetched, just consider the following out yesterday from Bloomberg:
American and Kurdish officials and Syrian Arab opposition leaders told us this week that ammunition said to have been for the Syrian Arab Coalition, a newly announced group of Sunni Arab brigades in northeastern Syria, had largely ended up arming the Kurdish Democratic Union Party and its associated military forces, known as the People's Protection Units or YPG. That will aid the Kurds in fighting the Islamic State and cementing their control of Kurdish territory.
One senior administration official who works on the issue told us that the White House knew that the coalition was likely to pass on most if not all of the weapons to the Kurds. The official, who called the Syrian Arab Coalition a "ploy" to arm the Kurds, said the White House knew they would receive the shipments because they controlled the area where the weapons were dropped. The U.S. did not ask the Arab coalition for any guarantees the weapons would stay in Arab hands, the official said.
On Thursday, Mutlu Civiroglu, a Kurdish affairs analyst, published an interview in which the YPG commander, Sipan Hemo, acknowledged his group had received the airdrops, which he said were important to its cause. “With this new support, the cooperation we have had for a year has reached a new level. And we hope to increase our work together even more, we hope to work strategically. So what we received was not big. But it is big for a new start,” Hemo said.
Technically then, Washington is now paradropping tons of ammo on pallets to make believe "Arabs".
And because the US is never content to let sleeping foreign policy mistakes lie, the Pentagon is now set to double down on the helicopter ammo drops. Here's AFP:
The US military is poised to boost its supply runs to rebels fighting Islamic State jihadists in northern Syria, a US official said Thursday, days after an initial air drop of ammunition.
"There will be more deliveries but only if they can demonstrate that they have used it in an effective way against ISIL," the official said, using an alternate acronym for IS.
"As they demonstrate results, the packages will get heavier and US strikes will occur in places that are advantageous to their operations."
The official described the rebel-arming program as "performance-based."
So let's attempt to sum all of this up. The US sanctioned a crackdown by Turkey on the Kurds ahead of Turkish elections in exchange for access to an air base. But allying with Turkey means Ankara won't be pleased if the US helps the Kurdish YPG in Syria because if there's anyone Erdogan hates more than Assad, it's the Kurds. Once every other "plan" for countering the regime in Syria demonstrably failed, the US wanted to send weapons to the YPG. To avoid angering Erdogan, the Pentagon created a fictional group of "Syrian Arabs" then pretended that the YPG had formed an alliance with the make believe fighters to give Washington an out in case Ankara got mad. US planes then dropped the weapons into the desert and prayed the Kurds picked them up.
Now, the US is set to paradrop many more tons of ammo into the middle of nowhere, provided the "Syrian Arab Coalition" can show "results."
So ultimately, this is a "performance-based" program under which Washington provides hundreds of tons (literally) of weapons and ammo to Arabs who don't really exist.
No further comment.