After Spectacular Failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, US to Throw More Money at Training for Syrian Rebels

This image is from June, but it could apply to just about any day US policy and "accomplishments" from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond is discussed.

This image is from June, but it could apply to just about any day US policy and “accomplishments” from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond are discussed.

A central part of Barack Obama’s prime-time disclosure that he is authorizing air strikes in Syria was his call for half a billion dollars to train and equip “moderate” rebels in Syria. Proving that bipartisanism in Washington is not dead, John Boehner was quick to show his support for this nifty plan:

Congressional leaders rallied behind President Obama’s call to combat the Islamic State, vowing Thursday to back his request for funding to arm Syrian rebels as early as next week.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he expects the House to pass Obama’s $500 million funding request to train and equip Syrian rebels who are fighting the militant group, also known as ISIL or ISIS.


“We only have one commander in chief,” Boehner said. “At this point in time, it is important to give the president what he is asking for.”

Remarkably, though, even this USA Today article notes that there might be a slight problem or two with this brilliant plan to stop ISIS, otherwise known as “the personification of evil in the modern world“:

Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, another endangered Democrat, said he was opposed to arming Syrian rebels. “We must have greater assurance that we aren’t arming extremists who will eventually use the weapons against us,” he said.

House Republicans are divided into two camps, according to Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana. He told the Associated Press after a closed-door caucus meeting that one side hopes to hold Obama “accountable for doing the right thing.” The other group — that includes himself, Fleming said — believes Obama’s plans amount to an “insane strategy to go out there and depend on people that are proven undependable” to take down the Islamic State.

Wow. I think I just became a big fan of a Republican congressman from Louisiana.

So where could Begich have gotten the idea that if we arm extremists they might eventually use those arms on us? I mean, besides folks like Osama bin Laden and the death squads we have armed in Iraq and Afghanistan? And how could Fleming think the groups we plan to train and arm might be undependable? That is, besides the Iraqi troops we trained who then abandoned their posts and US-supplied weapons as soon as ISIS entered the picture or the Afghan troops that routinely give territory back to the Taliban as soon as US forces withdraw?

And about that half billion dollar budget. Note that back in June, SIGAR’s latest figures (pdf) showed that the US has already disbursed over $48 billion to the Afghan Security Forces Fund which provides funding for the training and support of Afghanistan’s troops. Despite those billions, of course, no one doubts that these forces will be completely unable to function once US troops and US funding are gone, just as we saw when Iraqi forces faded away in the face of ISIS.

So yes, we are still stuck in that version of the movie Groundhog Day where we just end up training and equipping groups to take on our latest enemy, only to have the effort fail. But who should lead this august effort? Our most accomplished failure on this front, hands down, is David Petraeus. How could we possibly not use the author of this brilliant prose, penned in September, 2004, claiming that his second attempt at training troops in Iraq was a smashing success:

Helping organize, train and equip nearly a quarter-million of Iraq’s security forces is a daunting task. Doing so in the middle of a tough insurgency increases the challenge enormously, making the mission akin to repairing an aircraft while in flight — and while being shot at. Now, however, 18 months after entering Iraq, I see tangible progress. Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt from the ground up.

But, alas, I guess Petraeus is still too damaged to be used in this new training effort. No, the damage is not his multiple failures at training, but is because he had the audacity to get caught boinking his biographer.

The US is instead calling on a trusty backup to Petraeus, John Allen, who will oversee the entire effort to battle ISIS:

Retired Marine Gen. John Allen will coordinate the broad international effort to battle the Islamic State militants, as the campaign against the extremist group ramps up and nations begin to determine what role each will play, U.S. officials said Thursday.

Allen, who has been serving as a security adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry, is expected to work with the nearly 40 nations around the world who have agreed to join the fight and help them coordinate what each will contribute, several officials told The Associated Press.

Hmm, somehow, the AP article describes Allen’s experience but leaves out his most important demonstration of how prepared he is to lead this failed effort. Allen’s infinite wisdom and depth of knowledge about all things Islamic led him to the profound suggestion that Ramadan fasting was leading Afghan troops to attack their American trainers. Yes, Allen is very well poised to continue the US tradition of spectacular failure in training and arming groups that will either turn their weapons on us or surrender those weapons to someone who will. We even know this time as we enter the exercise that loyalties for groups in Syria are “all over the map“.

As a postscript, all of these repeated failures by our political and military leaders are only possible with the help of a failed press. An article in today’s New York Times illustrates how compliant “news” outlets help to obscure any responsibility on the part of the US for the radicalism and violence pervading the Middle East.  The article is about the US effort to get Arab allies in the fight against ISIS, but it is the literal framing of the article I want to focus on. Here are the opening two paragraphs and closing two paragraphs of the article:

Many Arab governments grumbled quietly in 2011 as the United States left Iraq, fearful it might fall deeper into chaos or Iranian influence. Now, the United States is back and getting a less than enthusiastic welcome, with leading allies like Egypt, Jordan and Turkey all finding ways on Thursday to avoid specific commitments to President Obama’s expanded military campaign against Sunni extremists.

As the prospect of the first American strikes inside Syria crackled through the region, the mixed reactions underscored the challenges of a new military intervention in the Middle East, where 13 years of chaos, from Sept. 11 through the Arab Spring revolts, have deepened political and sectarian divisions and increased mistrust of the United States on all sides.


Um Taha, a 35-year-old Sunni in Baghdad who withheld her full name, captured the mixture of cynicism and tenuous hope that may pass for the prevailing mood in the Arab world now.

She said she hoped the coalition succeeded, “despite the fact that America was one of the reasons why this radical organization originally existed.”

That is just stunning. Note that the current “chaos” in the Middle East is described as starting with September 11,  almost completely ignoring the blind rage the US demonstrated in its response to September 11 (there is the “mistrust of the United States” mentioned, but it is not explained). That leaves the final observation that “America was one of the reasons why this radical organization originally existed” more easily categorized as “they hate us for our freedoms” than “they hate us because we are carrying out a new Crusade”. Having the media compliantly paint the US as only a victim and never an aggressor assures that the American public and its Congress will meekly submit to moving our political and military “solutions” on to the next level of failure, even when our attempts to recruit allies are hampered by that history of aggression.

16 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    General Allen is a clone of General Petraeus (even to the skirt-chasing). At Allen’s Change of Command ceremony in Afghanistan on Feb 10, 2013, relating what he told his successor General Dunford:

    …And lastly, I told him our victory here may never be marked by a parade or a point in time on a calendar when victory is declared. This insurgency will be defeated over time by the legitimate and well-trained Afghan forces that are emerging today, who are taking the field in full force this spring. Afghan forces defending Afghan people and enabling the government of this country to serve its citizens. This is victory. This is what winning looks like, and we should not shrink from using these words.

    businessinsider, Aug 15
    Afghan Special Forces Say In Talks On Deal With Taliban In Helmand

    LASHKAR GAH Afghanistan (Reuters) – After months of intense fighting in southern Afghanistan where hundreds of Taliban fighters have battered Afghan troops in daily attacks, the special forces commander in Helmand province is seeking a deal with the insurgents.

    Helmand province [the focus of Obama’s ‘surge’] is the source of about half of Afghanistan’s opium and some areas have fallen under the control of drug dealers and the Taliban.

    Hundreds of U.S. and British soldiers were killed and wounded there over years of fighting but now it is the Afghans who are in charge of security as most foreign troops prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of this year.

    “Based on my contacts with Taliban and tribal elders I have already started talks,” Afghan special forces commander General Asadullah Shirzad, told reporters on Thursday, referring to his efforts in the province’s Sangin district.

    NYTimes, Sep 6
    Afghans Say Taliban Are Nearing Control of Key District

    KABUL, Afghanistan — Local Afghan officials say more than 200 police officers and soldiers have been killed during a fierce Taliban offensive in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan that has lasted all summer and now threatens to overwhelm a key district.
    Officials at the national level have played down the violence and even, in some cases, flatly denied that there is a problem. But local military, police and government officials, including two Afghan generals, have said in recent days that they are unsure their forces can continue to hold out against the offensive, which has been underway since June in the Sangin district in northern Helmand and more recently in neighboring Musa Qala, unless they get more support from national authorities and international forces.
    The authorities are particularly worried about Musa Qala, a traditional Taliban stronghold and a source of revenue from the lucrative opium poppy trade.

    This is the sort of “victory” we may expect against ISIS with Allen in charge.

  2. ArizonaBumblebeeper says:

    “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” – Karl Marx

    I see that our latest “Coalition of the Willing” is not so willing. Jordan, Turkey, and our European allies have opted out of our latest cockeyed plan for the Middle East. I read that Secretary of State Kerry was in Ankara, Turkey trying to convince the Turks to let us use their bases as a staging area for this new campaign. I was somewhat surprised that President Erdogan was there since the SCO is currently meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and he has indicated an interest in having Turkey eventually become a member of this new alliance, which includes China and Russia. Maybe he wanted some comic relief as Secretary Kerry tries to convince him of the merits of Obama’s new strategy to combat Islamic extremism.

  3. Don Bacon says:

    News for the NYTimes: The US-abetted act which “deepened political and sectarian divisions ” more than anything was the destruction of the Shiite al-Askari shrine in Samarra, a predominantly Sunni city, on Feb 22, 2006. At the time Samarra was under full US military control, with a curfew.
    Reacting to this attack, on 22 and 23 February 2006, throughout Iraq, assailants attacked at least 184 Sunni mosques with grenades, small arms, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), killing 12 Sunni imams and seven Sunni civilian worshippers, kidnapping 14 Sunni imams, and causing substantial damage to many of the mosques. Subsequently hundreds of Sunni mosques came under attack and a full-fledged civil war was initiated.
    In February 2006 Samarra was under total US military control. The curfew in Samarra started at 8pm. On February 21st, at 8:30pm, according to a witness, joint forces of the Iraq National Guard and the American Army appeared, then left at 9, then reappeared at 11pm. At 6am on the morning of the 22nd the ING left the area, and at 6:30 the Americans left. The first explosion occurred at 6:40, the second at
    The bombing of the Al-Askaria Mosque and its violent aftermath ratcheted the numbers of displaced persons up to a staggering 2.7 million. In a period of about a year, five percent of Iraq’s total population fled their homes and settled elsewhere in Iraq while an additional 2 million or so fled the country entirely. It is important to underscore that this displacement was not just a by-product of the conflict, but rather the result of deliberate policies of sectarian cleansing by armed militias.
    It was a part of the US strategy of divide-and-conquer. Three months later, on May 12, 2006, Joseph Biden called for the break-up of Iraq.
    WASHINGTON — The senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee proposed Monday that Iraq be divided into three separate regions — Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni — with a central government in Baghdad.
    In an op-ed essay in Monday’s edition of The New York Times, Sen. Joseph Biden. D-Del., wrote that the idea “is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group … room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.”
    It’s been done.

  4. TarheelDem says:

    Thanks for this informative piece about the connections between the strategy and the ground in Iraq and Syria. It is so encouraging to see that the fine traditions of US military leadership that William Westmoreland installed at West Point and then went to exemplify in his stellar battlefield command continue to server the best interests of the United States. So the “counterinsurgency” addiction of the US military continues with its corresponding bad trips and hallucinations.

    At least one Republican Congressman points out the neat foreign policy clothing that the tailors from McCain and Graham’s fabulous outfit made in those bipartisan consultations with Chlean sea bass and Anjou pears that the President has been having. Please clap as the President takes to the runway in his new foreign policy triumph. Meanwhile the elephants in the peanut gallery are ginning up the carp Wurlitzer. As one confessed, if he fails we’ll point it out; if he succeeds, we’ll ask why wasn’t he tough enoug to succeed sooner. At what point does some little kid point out that the US has been naked on foreign policy ever since World War II?

    Moreso, when will some wag point out that the US is in the position that its entire economy requires military sales because it makes little else.

    Our best hope is that those unreliable allies come to the conclusion that ISIS is a greater threat to them than the US is.

    • CTuttle says:

      Moreso, when will some wag point out that the US is in the position that its entire economy requires military sales because it makes little else.

      Exactly, ThD…!

    • Jim White says:

      Perfect timing with that joke. I had just tweeted this:

      Putting the door back up was delayed several days because I don’t trust myself or any of my saws to make the cut that was needed for the shiny new threshold to fit into place after I had finished the wood on it. A carpenter friend did those cuts for me. I still have all of my fingers, although there is significant peeling of callouses from the sanding process in getting the old finish off the door.

      • Don Bacon says:

        Smart move. I have a friend, an older guy with much experience on all handyman-type work, who had his hand wrongly placed on top of a piece of wood which was then quickly pulled into a whirling circular saw causing the loss of four fingers at the knuckles.

      • P J Evans says:

        beautiful door!

        I once spent part of a day helping my father install a new back door (at a spot that had previously been wall). Being my-father-the-engineer, he was using a level to get the door hung in a vertical plane. It was heavy (I was the one holding it steady, so I got the weight).

  5. bloopie2 says:

    Maybe the new war will distract Congress enough that they won’t deal with NSA ‘reform’ legislation this year – a good thing.

  6. Don Bacon says:

    I am a bit surprised that Obama hasn’t mentioned the US/Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement of
    Nov 26, 2007 for his new war.
    Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America
    As Iraqi leaders confirmed in their Communiqué signed on August 26, 2007, and endorsed by President Bush, the Governments of Iraq and the United States are committed to developing a long-term relationship of cooperation and friendship as two fully sovereign and independent states with common interests. This relationship will serve the interest of coming generations based on the heroic sacrifices made by the Iraqi people and the American people for the sake of a free, democratic, pluralistic, federal, and unified Iraq.
    The relationship of cooperation envisioned by the Republic of Iraq and the United States includes a range of issues, foremost of which is cooperation in the political, economic, cultural, and security fields, taking account of the following principles:
    First: The Political, Diplomatic, and Cultural Spheres
    1. Supporting the Republic of Iraq in defending its democratic system against internal and external threats….
    Third: The Security Sphere
    1. Providing security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace.
    2. Supporting the Republic of Iraq in its efforts to combat all terrorist groups, at the forefront of which is Al-Qaeda, Saddamists, and all other outlaw groups regardless of affiliation, and destroy their logistical networks and their sources of finance, and defeat and uproot them from Iraq. This support will be provided consistent with mechanisms and arrangements to be established in the bilateral cooperation agreements mentioned herein. 3. Supporting the Republic of Iraq in training, equipping, and arming the Iraqi Security Forces to enable them to protect Iraq and all its peoples, and completing the building of its administrative systems, in accordance with the request of the Iraqi government.
    Probably the fact that, on the US side, this treaty was handled secretly by the president and never received the Constitutional advice and consent of the Senate has something to do with people forgetting it. And I would think that even with a treaty the president might need congressional authorization to go to war, since the congress has to appropriate funds to pay for it.
    But so-called executive privilege is rampant these days, and the president merely declares that he has the authority.

  7. Don Bacon says:

    The “moderate” FSA recruits won’t be trained in Jordan any longer. They will be trained and equipped in — this is great — Saudi Arabia!! With half a billion dollars in new funding!!
    Question: What is the basis for believing that “moderate” anti-Syria fighters trained by Wahhabis in radical Saudi Arabia will still be “moderate” when they return to Syria?
    The Queen says to Alice: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

  8. Don Bacon says:

    ….and then the new FSA moderate army will ship out to Syria where it will defeat the ISIL and Syria Arab Army forces and everyone will live happily ever after.
    That’s all, kiddies. Lights out.

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