Attempts to make sense of the prolonged, bloody conflict in Syria which threatens Turkey’s southern border and long ago spilled over into Iraq, are everywhere and always complicated by the constantly shifting alliances among the various groups fighting for control of the country.
For instance, commentators were taken off guard in April when al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra appeared to be working in tandem with rival ISIS in a push to control the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. The siege – which transformed the camp into what Ban Ki-Moon called “the worst circle of hell” – also saw Palestinian militiamen forge awkward alliances with the Assad regime in the face of the militant assault.
Just this week, Turkey began bombing raids on ISIS targets, marking a departure from the country’s previous position and leading many to question why, given widespread suspicion that Turkey has been cooperating with ISIS for some time, Ankara would suddenly decide to go on the offensive (as we’ve shown, Erdogan’s motivation is purely political, but the official line is that a suicide bombing in Suruc forced the President’s reluctant hand). Turkey has also funnelled money to ISIS’ rivals in Syria in an effort to support any and all efforts (well, aside from those of the YPG) to overthrow Assad.
As for the US, it’s virtually impossible to say which groups the CIA has or hasn’t supported over the course of the war and indeed, many suspect US intelligence of funding and training the very militants who eventually became ISIS (a suspicion that was recently confirmed in a leaked Pentagon document).
Through it all, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has desperately clung to power although a speech delivered last Sunday suggested that the strongman’s grip on the country had weakened materially in the face of a manpower shortage.
Amid the chaos, the one thing that is abundantly clear is this: the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other parties with a vested interest in the trajectory of Syria’s political future all want Assad gone, and for Washington, openly supporting the various groups battling the regime is now virtually impossible given the now widespread acknowledgement that nearly everyone the US has trained or armed over the course of the civil war either already was or has since become an “extremist” (however one wishes to define that admittedly amorphous term).
The US effort to recruit and allign with “moderate freedom fighters” reached peak absurdity in May when the Pentagon announced that it would train “appropriately vetted” combatants who would help “meet the needs of Syrian opposition forces.”
How has that program been going you ask?
In fact, the US has only managed to recruit and train 54 people in three months- and that, believe it or not, is not the most embarrassing part.
Here’s The New York Times with more:
A Pentagon program to train moderate Syrian insurgents to fight the Islamic State has been vexed by problems of recruitment, screening, dismissals and desertions that have left only a tiny band of fighters ready to do battle.
Those fighters — 54 in all — suffered perhaps their most embarrassing setback yet on Thursday. One of their leaders, a Syrian Army defector who recruited them, was abducted in Syria near the Turkish border, along with his deputy who commands the trainees. They were seized not by the Islamic State but by its rival the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda that is another Islamist extremist byproduct of the four-year-old Syrian civil war.
The abductions illustrate the challenges confronting the Obama administration as it seeks to marshal local insurgents to fight the Islamic State, which it views as the region’s biggest threat.
So al-Nusra which, as The Times also notes, “dealt a more serious blow to the CIA program last year, attacking and dismantling its main groups, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and Harakat Hazm, and seizing some of their American-supplied, sophisticated antitank missiles,” has now captured the commander and deputy commander of the new US “force”, marking a terribly humiliating blow to the latest ill-fated CIA -backed effort to locate and train the “good guys.” Reuters has more on the story:
Al Qaeda’s Syria wing said on Friday it had detained members of a Syrian rebel group who had just returned from U.S. training, in a direct challenge to Washington’s plan to train and equip insurgents to combat the hard-line Islamic State group.
In a statement that appeared to contradict comments from the Pentagon, Nusra Front said the men it was holding had entered Syria several days prior and had been trained under the supervision of the Central Intelligence Agency.
It described them as agents of America and warned others they should abandon the programme. It also said a U.S.-led coalition had mounted air strikes against Nusra Front positions during fighting between the group and the rebels.
Syrian opposition sources and a monitoring group said earlier this week that Nusra Front had detained the leader of the U.S-trained rebel “Division 30” and a number of its members. The Pentagon cast doubt on the reports on Thursday, saying no members of the “New Syrian Force” had been captured or detained.
“We warn soldiers of (Division 30) against proceeding in the American project,” Nusra Front said in a statement distributed online. “We, and the Sunni people in Syria, will not allow their sacrifices to be offered on a golden platter to the American side.”
So ultimately, the CIA’s newest band of “freedom fighters” who are supposed to be fighting ISIS, are now fighting al-Nusra which is receiving funding from Turkey which as of last week, is now allied with the US in a fight against ISIS, only Turkey isn’t really fighting ISIS, it’s fighting the PKK which backs YPG which is really fighting ISIS and everyone involved is fighting Assad who would probably find the whole thing comically absurd were it not for the fact that it is ultimately his head that everyone is after.
It goes without saying that all of this serves to make Washington look absolutely ridiculous and indeed, this may mark a new record low for US foreign policy gone horribly awry.