Doesn’t this sound like a typical government operation? After nearly launching missile strikes on Bashar al-Assad and continuing a two-year demand for regime change in Syria, the Obama administration ended up falling in line behind the Russians on a no-consequences WMD-disarmament plan that makes Assad a critical player for at least the next year or two. Barack Obama insisted that the US will continue its support for the rebels, including arms and training, but the Washington Post reports that the program won’t even help the native, supposedly moderate rebels win their own civil war within the rebellion:
The CIA is expanding a clandestine effort to train opposition fighters in Syria amid concern that moderate, U.S.-backed militias are rapidly losing ground in the country’s civil war, U.S. officials said.
But the CIA program is so minuscule that it is expected to produce only a few hundred trained fighters each month even after it is enlarged, a level that officials said will do little to bolster rebel forces that are being eclipsed by radical Islamists in the fight against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The CIA’s mission, officials said, has been defined by the White House’s desire to seek a political settlement, a scenario that relies on an eventual stalemate among the warring factions rather than a clear victor. As a result, officials said, limits on the agency’s authorities enable it to provide enough support to help ensure that politically moderate, U.S.-supported militias don’t lose but not enough for them to win.
That doesn’t stack up well with what Assad is doing:
The agency has trained fewer than 1,000 rebel fighters this year, current and former U.S. officials said. By contrast, U.S. intelligence analysts estimate that more than 20,000 have been trained to fight for government-backed militias by Assad’s ally Iran and the Hezbollah militant network it sponsors.
In case readers missed this in the Green Room, it’s not going to put a dent into the efforts made by al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria to recruit and train foreign fighters, which now dominate the Syrian rebellion:
Foreign fighters from across the Arab world and beyond are playing an increasingly dominant role in the battle for control of Syria, which has emerged as an even more powerful magnet for jihadist volunteers than Iraq and Afghanistan were in the past decade.
The number of Syrians battling to overthrow the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad outstrips by a large margin the thousands of Arabs and other non-Syrian Muslims who have streamed into Syria over the past two years to join in the fight.
But the flow of jihadist volunteers has accelerated, and non-Syrians have begun taking the lead in a variety of roles as the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attempts to assert control over large areas of the rebel-held north.
Foreign fighters man checkpoints, serve as commanders on the battlefield and have become the de facto rulers of towns and cities in areas under rebel control, giving them a visible and much-feared presence across large swaths of territory, according to Syrians living in the north as well as analysts.
Saudis, Tunisians and Libyans are among the most frequently encountered nationalities, the residents and analysts say, but men from Chechnya, Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates also are present. The Pakistani Taliban announced in August that it had established a presence in Syria. Among those killed in recent battles was a Moroccan commander who had spent years as a prisoner of the U.S. government at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and was eulogized in one of the many videos prepared by the foreign volunteers to advertise their presence.
This looks less like a civil war now, and more like an al-Qaeda invasion. And we’re sending arms to the AQ side, at least at the moment.
That’s not to say that there isn’t some good news. Another civil war may break out amongst the radical Islamist networks that have hijacked the rebellion, and that fight may start in Azaz, which recently was wrested from native Free Syrian Army control:
Six of the most powerful rebel factions in Syria issued a joint statement on Thursday telling an Al-Qaeda front group to withdraw from the northern town of Azaz bordering Turkey.
In a separate statement, rebels in central Syria also called on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to leave Homs province.
The statements came amid fresh clashes between ISIL militants and the mainstream rebel Northern Storm brigade in Azaz.
Hours before the statement by the six rebel groups was made public, hundreds of ISIL fighters were advancing towards the border post with Turkey near Azaz.
Major rebel groups Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid and Jaysh al-Islam all signed the statement urging “our brothers in ISIL to withdraw their troops and vehicles to their main headquarters immediately”.
None of these factions align with the Syrian National Coalition, the supposedly-moderate front group favored by the US. They are all part of the problem that now plagues native Syrians — foreign fighters (on both sides, with Hezbollah recruiting for the Shi’ite coalition supporting Assad) conducting their war on Syrian soil. Syrians might catch a break if the Sunni jihadists start shooting at each other, but that will also serve to make Assad stronger in the long run. In other words, even the good news is only relatively so.