U.S. forces will train Syrian rebels to fight against the Islamic Caliphate according to recent testimony in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, and this news comes right after a former ambassador to Syria rejected the various rebels currently fighting in Syria as either incompetent or tied to terrorist groups.
Retired Gen. John Allen, currently serving as the special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIL, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 25. His written testimony said the fight against the Islamic Caliphate “remains extraordinarily complex” yet he also expressed optimism, saying that, “considering where we were only eight months ago, one begins to see how this first phase of our strategy is delivering results.” The written testimony also proceeded to lay out what Allen said were significant accomplishments in the coalition effort to counter the Islamic terrorists.
Allen’s written testimony also said the coalition has plans to train “approximately 5,000” Syrian rebels “per year for the next three years.” Reuters reported that he verbally told the committee that these numbers “are much higher than we thought, and it’s been a very [sic] encouraging.”
Such testimony is noteworthy considering that McClatchy reported on February 18 that Robert Ford, a recent ambassador to Syria, had announced that he no longer supported backing and arming the so-called Syrian rebels. McClatchy wrote that Ford had previously been “one of the Syrian rebels’ loudest cheerleaders in Washington.” Perhaps even more surprising is that McClatchy wrote that, “Ford said part of the problem was that too many rebels—and their patrons in Turkey and Qatar—insisted that Nusra was a homegrown, anti-Assad force when in fact it was an al Qaida affiliate.” Allegations of these two nations (or their citizens) supporting al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups have been around for a long time, and these statements from Ford will likely cause even more people to question how the U.S. can continue counting Turkey and Qatar as allies.
Even more shocking, McClatchy quoted Ford as confirming something I had assessed in 2013: the U.S. has knowingly been providing an indirect level of support for the al-Qaeda affiliate. “For a long time, we have looked the other way while the Nusra Front and armed groups on the ground, some of whom are getting help from us, have coordinated in military operations against the regime.”
Some will argue the Syrians the U.S. plans to train over the next three years will be properly vetted to ensure they aren’t terrorists. Yet there is no way to ensure this will occur. After all, wasn’t the U.S. supposed to have vetted the Syrians that are now acknowledged to have terrorist ties?
The U.S. Army War College just released a paper expressing concern about its troops lying. If the Army (and by extension, the DOD) truly is concerned about telling the truth, then there should be a chorus of DOD leaders loudly advising everyone that the U.S. has supported al-Qaeda—and that it must not occur again with this latest plan.
Yet that’s not occurring. And so the training and arming of Syrians will continue, even as former officials such as Robert Ford openly admit that the Syrians the U.S. previously backed (and possibly still is backing) are al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.