The U.S. continues to train a rebel army in Syria despite the total failure of the program’s first division of troops.
WASHINGTON — Many observers and experts already consider the U.S. plan to train “moderate” Syrian rebels a failure, but it looks like a worse investment than ever after the utter, humiliating defeat of the first division of troops.
The Obama administration’s program to train Syrian rebels began after a June 2014 attack on Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, by the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, according to a timeline of events created by Vox. With $500 million earmarked for the project, it was designed to replace an existing program led by the CIA. The United States hoped to train thousands of rebels to join the struggle against ISIS extremists. By April this year, according to Reuters, the cost of training had risen, with the administration now asking for $1.1 billion to fund the training program.
By July, the administration could no longer hide the many problems with the program. With half of the $500 initial budget already spent, only about 60 rebels had been successfully trained. Despite the very limited success, the administration hoped to “graduate” its first class of trainees, called Division 30, and planned to send them out into combat later that month.
However, before Division 30 even encountered ISIS forces, they were attacked by Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate operating in Syria. According to multiple reports, U.S. officials seemed surprised at this attack, apparently expecting the al-Nusra to view Division 30, the U.S.-trained rebels, as allies.
Instead, during two separate attacks, al-Nusra fighters kidnapped Division 30’s leader and six other members, while several were killed. Despite U.S. air support, CBS News reported on Sunday that the remaining troops had disappeared or fled into Turkey, leaving Division 30 a total failure.
Given past failures and a report from Al-Jazeera News that the troops refused to fight al-Nusra and opposed air strikes, it’s even possible that some of the missing or kidnapped members have joined the al-Qaida affiliate. The U.S. has a long history of allies it trains turning into enemies or even terrorists, and there have been frequent reports of U.S. military equipment ending up in the hands of ISIS. Given this repeating pattern in the Middle East, some have even suggested it may be a deliberate effort by the U.S. to destabilize the region.
According to a report published by the Jerusalem Post on Monday, the program has become a source of ridicule in the Middle Eastern press:
“Kirk Sowell, principal of Uticensis Risk Services, a Middle East-focused political risk firm, who closely follows Arab media summed it up this way on Twitter: ‘Pentagon: Arab media are laughing at you.’”
Yet the U.S. seems determined to press forward with the training program. The Hill reported Friday that the Pentagon claims to be ramping up its speed and size:
“The second class of rebels did not begin training until late July. The third class began sometime since July 24.
[U.S. Central Command spokesman Col. Pat] Ryder would not say when exactly the third class began training, out of concern for the recruits’ safety.
The Pentagon has kept details on the program as closely-held as possible, so as to protect them from ISIS and other groups when they redeploy back into Syria.
The recruits are training in Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar and have faced security challenges coming in and out of Syria for the training.
Despite the program’s shaky start, the Pentagon hopes to ramp up the total trainees to 3,000 by the end of the year and 5,000 by next May.”
Watch “Nusra Front attacks base of US-trained militants in Syria’s north” from Press TV: