From “train and equip” to “just equip”
Last Friday, the Pentagon announced its intention to discontinue efforts to create a new, moderate rebel fighting force in Syria as part of the effort to “degrade and defeat” the Islamic State. Instead, officials say that the US will provide equipment and weapons to “vetted Syrian units” so that “over time they can make a concerted push into territory still controlled by ISIL.”
Has the training program been abandoned? Officials speaking under the condition of anonymity insist that it has not, but today the military airdropped 50 tons of ammunition and grenades into Al-Hasakah province in northern Syria, which tells me that the US has officially moved away from “train and equip” to just “equip.”
From Fox News:
Coming just two days after the Defense Department announced it was effectively ending its current training program, the airdrop delivery was made Sunday by four C-17 transport aircraft. The 112 pallets contained ammunition for M-16s and AK-47s.
“All the pallets reached friendly forces,” the official said, adding that the drop “looked similar to what we did in Kobani.” This referred to one of the few bright spots in the war against the Islamic State when the U.S. military dropped weapons to Syrian Kurdish fighters, known as the YPG, who successfully expelled ISIS from the Turkish-Syrian border town of Kobani earlier this year.
This time, the official said Syrian Kurds were not recipients of the U.S. airdrop — only Syrian Arabs fighting ISIS. There is sensitivity in Washington over arming Syrian Kurds, whom Turkey sees as an enemy but the U.S. counts as a NATO ally.
Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, confirmed that coalition forces conducted the airdrop on Sunday.
“The aircraft delivery includes small arms ammunition to resupply counter-ISIL ground forces so that they can continue operations against ISIL. All aircraft exited the drop area safely,” he said in a statement.
This shift in strategy forces us to sidestep both Turkey and Russia. Russia is still conducting airstrikes against some rebel groups the US counts as allies; Russia has decided to define these groups as “terrorist organizations” and enemies of the Assad regime, which Russia has committed to boosting.
On Sunday, CBS aired an interview between President Obama and 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft; the interview focused heavily on Syria, and the US relationship with Vladimir Putin—but mostly featured Obama simultaneously throwing his defense advisors under the bus, throwing himself under the bus, and then defending the bus for the ensuing carnage.
Give this chunk of the interview a skim—it’s enlightening. From CBS [emphasis mine]:
Steve Kroft: You have been talking about the moderate opposition in Syria. It seems very hard to identify. And you talked about the frustrations of trying to find some and train them. You got a half a billion dollars from Congress to train and equip 5,000, and at the end, according to the commander CENTCOM, you got 50 people, most of whom are dead or deserted. He said four or five left?
President Barack Obama: Steve, this is why I’ve been skeptical from the get go about the notion that we were going to effectively create this proxy army inside of Syria. My goal has been to try to test the proposition, can we be able to train and equip a moderate opposition that’s willing to fight ISIL? And what we’ve learned is that as long as Assad remains in power, it is very difficult to get those folks to focus their attention on ISIL.
Steve Kroft: I want to talk about the– this program, because it would seem to show, I mean, if you expect 5,000 and you get five, it shows that somebody someplace along the line did not– made– you know, some sort of a serious miscalculation.
President Barack Obama: You know, the– the– Steve, let me just say this.
Steve Kroft: It’s an embarrassment.
President Barack Obama: Look, there’s no doubt that it did not work. And, one of the challenges that I’ve had throughout this heartbreaking situation inside of Syria is, is that– you’ll have people insist that, you know, all you have to do is send in a few– you know, truckloads full of arms and people are ready to fight. And then, when you start a train-and-equip program and it doesn’t work, then people say, “Well, why didn’t it work?” Or, “If it had just started three months earlier it would’ve worked.”
Steve Kroft: But you said yourself you never believed in this.
President Barack Obama: Well– but Steve, what I have also said is, is that surprisingly enough it turns out that in a situation that is as volatile and with as many players as there are inside of Syria, there aren’t any silver bullets.
Shame on us for thinking that “truckloads full of arms” will solve a prob…oh, wait.
You can watch the full interview here:
(BONUS: fast foward to around 6:30 to see Steve Kroft call Obama out for “filibustering” his questions on US strategy in Syria, and then get scolded for it.)
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