[Marxism] What really happened to the US train and equip program in Syria?
mkaradjis at gmail.com
Tue Dec 22 07:39:43 MST 2015
What really happened to the US train and equip program in Syria?
By Roy Gutman
rgutman at mcclatchydc.com
Disaster struck when the break was over and they were headed back to
their base. On July 29, a day after U.S. aircraft had attacked an
outpost of the Nusra Front, al Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, Nusra seized
Col. Nedim Hassan – the commander of Division 30, the rebel unit in
which the trainees were to be embedded – along with seven of his men.
Then on July 31, Nusra attacked the headquarters of the division in a
battle that ended with U.S. airstrikes and ground intervention by
Kurdish militias. As many as 50 Nusra members died in the fighting,
according to some reports, but Nusra managed to seize 10 graduates of
the so-called train-and-equip program.
Ten weeks later, the Pentagon announced that it had halted the program,
which until that moment had been the keystone of the Obama
administration’s policy to combat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS
and ISIL, in Syria.
The program’s demise has been ascribed to a number of factors, including
the participants, the Turkish intelligence agency MIT and a Syrian
militia, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, better known as the YPG.
But a McClatchy investigation shows that the primary factor may well
have been the United States itself, which conceived of a program that
didn’t have the support of the people it was intended to train and was
viewed with deep skepticism by its key training partner, Turkey.
I told them the whole idea is wrong. I said: ‘We are Syrians. Our
problem is with the regime. Help us to get rid of the regime.’ The
response was: ‘You should not shoot a bullet against the regime.’ Amin
Ibrahim, trainees’ commander
Adding to the calamity was the ill-timed U.S. airstrike against Nusra,
an al Qaida force that could easily avenge its losses by targeting the
train-and-equip units as they returned to their base from their
unscheduled home leave.
Even Ibrahim, the trainees’ commander, said he’d contemplated quitting
midstream. He didn’t only because he knew it would doom the effort. “I’m
the commander. If I quit, everyone will,” he said he’d often thought.
But Ibrahim said he’d never bought into the training mission’s goal of
targeting the Islamic State before turning to battle the government of
President Bashar Assad.
“Every day I had a meeting with them,” Ibrahim said of the American
trainers, who numbered one for every two trainees. “I told them the
whole idea is wrong. I said: ‘We are Syrians. Our problem is with the
regime. Help us to get rid of the regime.’ The response was: ‘You should
not shoot a bullet against the regime,’ ” he recalled.
More than once, “we all got up and walked out.” Sometimes the Turkish
trainers asked the Americans to leave the room. “Either follow what the
Syrians say or just leave,” he quoted the Turkish trainers as saying.
The Turks “were always on our side,” Ibrahim said.
U.S. officials responded to several questions about the program but were
reluctant to discuss trainees’ alleged discontent.
“These are all good questions,” said a defense official who also wasn’t
authorized to speak on the record. “All I can say is that we work with
thousands of Arabs” through a new Arab-Kurdish alliance called the
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Syrian Arabs “are very supportive and
fighting alongside the SDF daily.”
A 23-year-old recruit who was interviewed in Adana, Turkey, and who
asked to be called only Mahmoud for security reasons, echoed Ibrahim’s
comments on the mission. During his training in Jordan and in Turkey,
“we told them that ISIS is bad, but the regime is worse. If you want to
get rid of ISIS, get rid of the regime.”
The trainers were unbendable in following the dictates of the
congressional act that funded the $500 million program: “No, let’s focus
on the Islamic State and then you will fight the regime,” Mahmoud quoted
the Americans as saying.
Another source of tension was the growing relationship between the
United States and the Kurdish YPG militia, which in the first six months
of the year had, with U.S. aerial support, forced the Islamic State from
dozens of villages in northern Syria. Syrian Arab fighters distrust the
YPG, in part because of longtime ethnic rivalries and in part because
they’re convinced it still has ties to the Syrian government; Assad
police and government offices still function in key parts of
When Division 30 was being set up at the end of April and early May,
Col. Mohammad Daher, the new unit’s chief of staff, had several meetings
with Kurdish officials in Afrin, a Kurdish area northwest of Aleppo,
Syria. He noted then that the YPG seemed to be flourishing, despite the
presence of government police and intelligence.
“They have an army, and an army needs a state for support,” Daher said,
hinting that the backing came from the Syrian government, something
Assad himself confirmed in an interview earlier this month with The
Sunday Times of London, according to the official transcript of the
>From his contacts, Daher said, he became convinced that the Kurdish
militia would prefer to let the Islamic State seize the entire northern
countryside. “Then it’s our chance to attack” the religious extremists
and take control of the territory, he asserted was what the Kurds had in
mind. When the YPG invited Daher to merge his fighters with theirs, he
was immediately suspicious that the Kurds’ real hope was “to neutralize
as many people as they can” in the Arab rebel ranks.
But it was Daher’s belief that the U.S. wanted the YPG to play a leading
role that doomed his support. He felt that the site the U.S. had picked
for Division 30 headquarters merely confirmed American favoritism toward
the Kurdish forces – Maryameen, west of the border town of Azaz, and
just five miles from the Kurdish controlled Afrin area. Turkey, and
Daher, had wanted it in the front-line town of Mar’e, which is
threatened by the Islamic State. “But the Americans wanted it close to
where the Kurds are,” he said.
The U.S. defense official dismissed Daher’s concern as a “conspiracy
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