America Is Taking a New Approach to Syria’s Rebels
The Pentagon will supply arms directly instead
The Pentagon has opted to halt its training program for members of the Free Syrian Army. According to The Washington Post, America saw little worth in maintaining the New Syrian Forces, an FSA subunit with fighters drawn from Division 30.
The program never made much sense to begin with.
U.S. advisers trained dozens of recruits in Jordan and Turkey after the Pentagon vetted them several times — all part of a plan to ensure that the trainees would only fight the Islamic State, rather than the Syrian government.
But the U.S. military recruited few Syrians, because volunteers found Operation Inherent Resolve’s singular campaign against the Islamic State, a lesser enemy, secondary to their war with the regime of Syrian Pres. Bashar Al Assad.
Graduates of the training program, in turn, proved useless after returning to Syria. Jabhat Al Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate and one of Syria’s most powerful rebel groups, kidnapped some U.S.-backed militants as they entered, while others surrendered their weapons.
America’s new policy will be to arm experienced FSA units already fighting Islamic State. These fighters would manage their own war, which resembles an existing Central Intelligence Agency operation. The CIA has armed rebels in the north and south of Syria through Jordan and Turkey for years, even training some in Qatar.
A likely recipient of new weapons would be the Syrian Arab Coalition, a Pentagon name for Burqan Al Furat, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab rebel groups including the Raqqa Revolutionaries’ Brigade, a.k.a. Liwa Thuwar Raqqa.
Liwa Thuwar Raqqa is an interesting group. The organization claims its objective is to create a a civil, non-sectarian democratic state. But the organization has gone through several ideological permutations, and at one point adopted Islamist imagery and cooperated — albeit poorly — with Al Nusra.
That now seems to have been a tactical and temporary move. The alliance with Al Nusra broke down, and Liwa Thuwar Raqqa linked up with the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units, according to a history of the group by researcher Joshua Landis.
But even this new alliance with the Kurds could run into trouble, Landis wrote:
The group is hoping to push further south to Raqqa city, though the prospects of such an assault being successful are slim now and for the near future at least, as the Islamic State has deployed its special Jaysh Al Khilafa division to solidify the defense of Raqqa city. In the long-run, the alliance with the YPG in the Burkan Al Furat coalition seems problematic, as Liwa Thuwar al-Raqqa and the YPG/PYD have different political visions. Liwa Thuwar Al Raqqa is committed, like most rebel forces, to the concept of a unified Syria that suspects any Kurdish autonomous administration projects as working towards taqsim Souriya (“division of Syria”).
Russia has bombed CIA-armed rebels in Aleppo, a critical front against the terrorist organization, meaning that whoever replaces the New Syrian Forces may prove as decisive to American–Russian relates as to Operation Inherent Resolve.
For now, the FSA continues to wait for support from its strongest backer.