It would be difficult to find a program that better exemplifies the word “failure” than the Pentagon’s “train and equip” effort in Syria.
Last May, US Central Command issued a hilariously absurd press release outlining what was quite obviously going to be a disastrous effort to arm rebel fighters. “The US military and partner forces have begun training the initial class of appropriately vetted Syrian opposition recruits this week to support the effort to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL in Syria,” the PR read.
The idea was to field a contingent of more than 5,000 fearsome warriors by the end of the year.
(File photo: Dec. 17, 2012 Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan near Idlib, Syria)
Long story short, the effort was a fiasco - a complete debacle - a hilarious screwup. First, Colonel Nadim al-Hassan and an unknown number of other fighters from “Division 30” were kidnapped in the Aleppo countryside in July. “A senior U.S. defense official confirmed the snatched fighters had gone through the initial vetting process to receive training in Turkey,” The Daily Beast wrote at the time. “But then, for reasons that remain unclear, they traveled to Syria before they were ready to do battle with ISIS.” Subsequently, al-Nusra simply arrested them at a checkpoint near Zahart al-Malkia.
"We warn soldiers of (Division 30) against proceeding in the American project," the al-Qaeda affiliate said in a statement distributed online. "We, and the Sunni people in Syria, will not allow their sacrifices to be offered on a golden platter to the American side.
As humiliating as that most certainly was, it got far, far worse. In late September, rumors circulated that Division 30 commander Anas Ibrahim Obaid had defected to al-Nusra after he disappeared in Aleppo.
Apparently, Obaid entered Syria from Turkey the day before with some 70 new graduates of the US program and a dozen or so four-wheel vehicles equipped with machine guns and ammunition. Although there are competing accounts as to what exactly happened next, Division 30 ultimately handed over all of the ammunition and the pickup trucks to al-Nusra in exchange for "safe passage."
"They handed over a very large amount of ammunition and medium weaponry and a number of pick-ups," one Abu Fahd al-Tunisi, an al-Nusra member, said on Twitter. "A strong slap for America... the new group from Division 30 that entered yesterday hands over all of its weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra after being granted safe passage," he added.
Yes, "a strong slap for America" that came just days after "a strong slap" for taxpayers who on September 16 learned that only "four or five" graduates of the $500 million program were still fighting in Syria.
The program was understandably mothballed a few weeks later, but that doesn't mean US-trained forces didn't continue to rack up embarrassing battlefield losses to al-Nusra. In fact, it was exactly two weeks ago that al-Nusra took over Maarat Numan from Division 13 (one of the first rebel groups to receive US-made TOWs), confiscating anti-tank missiles, armored vehicles, a tank, and other arms in the process. “We congratulate [al-Nusra chief Mohammad] al-Jolani on this conquest!” Division 13's leadership exclaimed, sarcastically on Twitter.
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Throw in the fact that the FSA - not to mention all the other "moderate" rebels fighting in and around Aleppo - just got finished having their proverbial asses handed to them by Russia and Hezbollah and you'd think things couldn't get much sillier for the Pentagon.
But you'd be wrong.
As The LA Times reports, Pentagon-armed Kurdish units (so these are different fighters from those involved in "train and equip") are now engaging in firefights with CIA-armed forces in what is surely the most ridiculous example of US strategy gone horriby (and hilariously) awry to date.
"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," the Times writes. "The fighting has intensified over the last two months, as CIA-armed units and Pentagon-armed ones have repeatedly shot at each other while maneuvering through contested territory on the northern outskirts of Aleppo, U.S. officials and rebel leaders have confirmed." Here's more:
In mid-February, a CIA-armed militia called Fursan al Haq, or Knights of Righteousness, was run out of the town of Marea, about 20 miles north of Aleppo, by Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces moving in from Kurdish-controlled areas to the east.
“Any faction that attacks us, regardless from where it gets its support, we will fight it,” Maj. Fares Bayoush, a leader of Fursan al Haq, said in an interview.
Rebel fighters described similar clashes in the town of Azaz, a key transit point for fighters and supplies between Aleppo and the Turkish border, and on March 3 in the Aleppo neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsud.
The attacks by one U.S.-backed group against another come amid continued heavy fighting in Syria and illustrate the difficulty facing U.S. efforts to coordinate among dozens of armed groups that are trying to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad, fight the Islamic State militant group and battle one another all at the same time.
At first, the two different sets of fighters were primarily operating in widely separated areas of Syria — the Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the northeastern part of the country and the CIA-backed groups farther west. But over the last several months, Russian airstrikes against anti-Assad fighters in northwestern Syria have weakened them. That created an opening which allowed the Kurdish-led groups to expand their zone of control to the outskirts of Aleppo, bringing them into more frequent conflict with the CIA-backed outfits.
The reference to "Kurdish-led" groups is a nod to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a make-believe alliance between the YPG and "Syrian Arabs." As we noted last autumn in our classic post "Full Metal Retard: US Launches 'Performance-Based' Ammo Paradrop Program For Make-Believe 'Syrian Arabs'", there is no such thing as the SDF. The US was looking for a way to arm the YPG without enraging Erdogan, and so Washington tried to say that the Kurds had in fact joined forces with moderate Arabs in an ad hoc anti-Assad coalition. The Pentagon then promptly dropped 50 tons of ammo into the middle of the desert on pallets for the Kurds to retrieve (Erdogan saw right through the ruse, but that's another story). "The group is dominated by Kurdish outfits known as People's Protection Units or YPG," the Times goes on to note. "A few Arab units have joined the force in order to prevent it from looking like an invading Kurdish army, and it has received air-drops of weapons and supplies and assistance from U.S. Special Forces."
Of course none of this should surprise anyone. The Kurds are looking to bridge the territory they control east of the Euphrates along the Syrian-Turkish border with that which they control in Aleppo and that means moving into the Azaz corridor (i.e. the grey area between the purple areas on the map below).
The Kurd's recent move to declare federalism will only make the push to unite their territory in northern Syria more urgent.
What makes this especially absurd is that Erdogan is firing on the YPG in and around Azaz. And by "YPG" we mean the Pentagon-backed "SDF." So summing up, you have the Pentagon-backed Kurds fighting CIA-backed Islamists in an area where US-ally Erdogan is firing on the same Pentagon-backed Kurds.
And believe it or not, that's not the punchline. The punchline is that Obama is considering restarting the train and equip program which would mean that in addition to the Pentagon-backed Kurds fighting in close proximity to and sometimes against CIA-backed rebels, you'd have a separate group of Pentagon-backed fighters operating in the very same area and everyone would be dodging artillery fire from the Turkish army.
Perhaps an unnamed US official who spoke to the LA Times summed it up best: "This is complicated."
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