President Obama reluctantly put half a toe into the Syria conflict after dithering on the matter for years, with predictable results.
According to the Wall Street Journal, America’s backing for “moderate” rebels hasn’t resulted in much more, in the words of one rebel commander, than “a huge American flag planted on our backs.”
The moderate rebels aren’t getting the weapons they need and are defecting to the Islamists or al-Qaeda, dying, or just plain disappearing. It’s a circus, albeit one in which the ringmaster gets the performers killed.
From the piece:
Some weapons shipments were so small that commanders had to ration ammunition. One of the U.S.’s favorite trusted commanders got the equivalent of 16 bullets a month per fighter. Rebel leaders were told they had to hand over old antitank missile launchers to get new ones—and couldn’t get shells for captured tanks. When they appealed last summer for ammo to battle fighters linked to al Qaeda, the U.S. said no.
Moderate fighters control only a fraction of northern Syria, while Islamic State and al Qaeda’s official affiliate, the Nusra Front, have gained ground. Last fall, Nusra overran one trusted commander and seized another’s equipment.
Entire CIA-backed rebel units, including fighters numbering in the “low hundreds” who went through the training program, have changed sides by joining forces with Islamist brigades, quit the fight or gone missing. . . . Most CIA-backed fighters made $100 to $150 a month. Commanders made slightly more. Islamic State and Nusra often paid twice as much, making it harder for the trusted commanders to retain fighters.
“We walk around Syria with a huge American flag planted on our backs, but we don’t have enough AK-47s in our hands to protect ourselves,” a leader of the Hazzm Movement, among the most trusted of the trusted commanders, told U.S. lawmakers in a meeting after Nusra’s advances.
The CIA recently stopped offering help to all but a few trusted commanders in Syria. But the new mission also calls for building a rebel force to fight Islamic State, not the Assad regime, which will make it tougher for the Pentagon to attract rebel commanders to the program, some U.S. officials say.
“I think we’ve lost our window of opportunity,” says Robert Ford, the State Department’s ambassador to Syria from 2010 to 2014.
At least Obama is now pointing the effort away from Assad and toward ISIS. I once believed we should back certain rebels to try to eliminate a proven enemy, Assad, and influence the result of the revolution. But the time for that is long passed. Assad, unfortunately, can stay where he is. The priority is defeating our even worse enemy, the Islamists.