Funding Hapless Mission to Train Syrian Rebels Increases Value of Saudi Terror Hedge Fund

The cycle time for the US wiping its collective memory and re-starting a training program for troops aimed against the enemy du jour seems to be getting shorter. While the covert CIA plan to train “moderate” rebels to fight in Syria has not even ended, the new $500 million Obama just got approved by Congress for the military to train rebels is being described almost as if it is the only program around:

Even if the training goes as planned, the rebels will be outnumbered. While the United States has proposed to train and equip 5,000 rebels, the Central Intelligence Agency has said it believes that the Islamic State has between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Elsewhere in that article we do see “This scaled-up training program would be overseen by the Defense Department, unlike the current covert program here and a similar program in Jordan, both overseen by the C.I.A.”, but since the number of fighters trained by the CIA isn’t added to those we plan to train using the military, it would appear that those “fighters” are in the process of fading into the sunset.

With David Petraeus still unavailable to run this PR training program, we are actually seeing hints this time that at least a few of our Congresscritters may be learning that our history of training isn’t exactly stellar and could bode poorly for this effort:

Some lawmakers who voted against Wednesday’s measure argued the administration was moving too fast and did not yet have a feasible plan to arm the Syrian rebels. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) said it was “pretty disturbing” that Thursday’s hearing was occurring after the House had voted.

“I don’t think the plan that I have seen was detailed enough to make me believe that your plan will work,” Sanchez said. “I hope I am wrong. I hoped the same thing when I voted against the Iraq war that I was wrong, but I don’t believe I was wrong on that.”

Still, the larger focus of Thursday’s hearing shifted from the push for Congress to approve arming and training the Syrian rebels to the future of the U.S. military campaign against ISIL.

Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) said she had doubts about the plan and asked Hagel to explain the endgame against ISIL. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) asked about the vetting of forces in Iraq — and not just Syria. And Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) wanted more details about potential airstrikes in Syria.

Remarkably, the press also is noticing that this effort is ill-fated. From the same NYTimes article linked above:

While the House approved an aid package for the rebels on Wednesday and the Senate followed on Thursday, at present the rebels are a beleaguered lot, far from becoming a force that can take on the fanatical and seasoned fighters of the Islamic State.

What’s more, the Times acknowledges that the “moderates” have different priorities from US goals in Syria:

Short of arms, they are struggling to hold their own against both the military of President Bashar al-Assad and the jihadists of the Islamic State. Their leaders have been the targets of assassination attempts. And some acknowledge that battlefield necessity has put them in the trenches with the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, an issue of obvious concern for the United States.

While they long for greater international support and hate the Islamic State, sometimes called ISIS or ISIL, ousting Mr. Assad remains their primary goal, putting them at odds with their American patrons.

As Marcy noted earlier this week, small amounts of recognition of the perverse role of Saudi Arabia in funding global terrorism is also finally creeping into general awareness. Former Florida Governor and Senator Bob Graham has been quite active lately in pushing on that front. In addition to the quote Marcy presented from a Tampa news outlet, there is this from a Patrick Cockburn interview:

Senator Graham, a distinguished elder statesmen who was twice Democratic governor of Florida before spending 18 years in the US Senate, believes that ignoring what Saudi Arabia was doing and treating it as a reliable American ally contributed to the US intelligence services’ failure to identify Isis as a rising power until after it captured Mosul on 10 June. He says that “one reason I think that our intelligence has been less than stellar” is that not enough attention was given to Saudi Arabia’s fostering of al-Qaeda-type jihadi movements, of which Isis is the most notorious and successful. So far the CIA and other intelligence services have faced little criticism in the US for their apparent failure to foresee the explosive expansion of Isis, which now controls an area larger than Great Britain in northern Iraq and eastern Syria.


Senator Graham does not suggest that the Saudis are directly running Isis, but that their support for Sunni extremists in Iraq and Syria opened the door to jihadis including Isis. Similar points were made by Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service, and MI6, who said in a lecture at the Royal United Services Institute in London in July that the Saudi government is “deeply attracted towards any militancy which effectively challenges Shiadom”. He said that rulers of the Kingdom tended to oppose jihadis at home as enemies of the House of Saud, but promote them abroad in the interests of Saudi foreign policy. Anti-Shi’ism has always been at the centre of the Saudi world view, and he quoted Prince Bandar, the ambassador in Washington at the time of 9/11 and later head of Saudi intelligence, as saying to him: “The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally ‘God help the Shia’. More than a billion Sunni have simply had enough of them.”

So the long-term position of the Saudis is to promote Sunni jihadists against Shia forces globally. But part of how they avoid US ire is that they play both sides. From the Times article:

So far, the program has focused on a small number of vetted rebel groups from the hundreds that are fighting across Syria, providing them with military and financial help, according to rebel commanders who have received support.

The process is run by intelligence officials from a number of countries. The United States provides overall guidance, while Turkey manages the border, and Persian Gulf states like Saudi Arabia provide much of the funding.

Despite fostering the conditions that led to the formation of ISIS, the Saudis also are helping to fund what can only be described as a doomed before it starts effort to combat ISIS. In the world of terrorism, the Saudis are behaving like a hedge fund, betting on both sides of the ISIS issue. Despite their small position against ISIS in the short term, there is no doubt their long term position is one of radical Sunni jihadism. In fact, since the training is doomed, by helping to fund it, the Saudis are increasing the overall stature of their long term jihadist investment. No matter how much money the US throws at this effort or how many “moderate rebels” it trains, only a fool would believe the Saudis would allow the Syrian rebels and Iraq to defeat a Sunni jihadist movement.

21 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    It’s amazing how a supposedly great nation’s government could be totally occupied for such a time with such a ridiculous idea as the training of 5,000 nonexistent Syrian moderate rebels into an army which would be hopefully ready for an action they will never take (fighting ISIS and not Syria) a year from now. How will the “moderate rebels” be selected? The US military geniuses will look into their hearts. What are they, cardiologists? How about “moderate rebels” being trained by Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia? Cheeesh. Even Petraeus wasn’t this stupid. Well, maybe not.

    armytimes, Sep 18
    Dempsey: Syrian rebel training may take 12 months

    Speaking to a small group of reporters after meeting with his French counterpart, Dempsey said it will take three or four months to begin the $500 million training program, which the House approved on Wednesday and sent to the Senate, where members of both parties predicted easy passage.
    Dempsey said that before training can start, the U.S. and certain allies must screen potential candidates in Syria for competence and loyalty. Initially, they will be provided small arms and other light weaponry, Dempsey said, but that could graduate to more sophisticated weaponry — “once we know what’s in their hearts.”
    Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday that Saudi Arabia would host the training. Dempsey declined to specify a host country but said the training would be done in more than one country. The goal is to train at least 5,000 rebels within one year.
    It also will take time to acquire through contractors the arms and equipment for training, he said. And once training is underway, it will be necessary to figure out how the rebels would be linked to a political entity inside Syria, Dempsey said, referring to this as the most difficult of the current unknowns.
    He said the intent is not to field small teams of guerrillas that would be turned loose in Syria. He said the focus would be on developing rebels capable of leading a substantial force.
    “We’ve got to build a chain of command. This is not about building little 10- or 12-man squads to go and conduct guerrilla tactics or go defend their village. This is working them to a point where they have leaders who can maneuver a couple of hundred of these opposition groups at a time. That takes a little time,” he said, adding that this is the kind of training the U.S. military is capable of performing. Dempsey himself is a former wartime head of training Iraqi security forces.

    Obama just set Dempsey off to Europe to shut him up. Good idea. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed his gratitude to Congress last night for its “swift action” to give the Defense Department the authority to begin training and equipping the moderate Syrian opposition. The Senate has left town and won’t be back until November. Hurrah for that.
    Here we go, training another useless army. How come our guys never fight like their guys? Because our guys are fighting for us and their guys are fighting for what they believe in. The US doesn’t get that.

    • Louisa says:

      It also will take time to acquire through contractors the arms and equipment for training, he said. And once training is underway, it will be necessary to figure out how the rebels would be linked to a political entity inside Syria, Dempsey said, referring to this as the most difficult of the current unknowns.

      That does sound difficult: first we sign up some guys (dunno wherefrom), train and arm them, and then we decide who they will fight for/under. But what if the actual fighters feel like they want to be in another “brigade” than the one the trainers assigned them to? It seems this would lead to all sorts of problems.
      PS. please get a Preview button so I know if formatted things correct before posting it :p

      • RUKidding says:

        Eh? Doesn’t matter. It’s what the CIA is doing already. If they train one Brigade and then they turn all Jihadi ‘n stuff, well that’s all good, too. Then the DOD can go whining to Congress with their hat in hand: booga booga scary scary Jihadi’s are a-comin’ ta git us. More money, please! Cha Ching!

        • Don Bacon says:

          You called it– booga booga scary scary Jihadi’s are a-comin’ ta git us
          40 American ISIS fighters now back in US, rep says
          One escaped ISIS fighter said that ISIS used non-Arabic speakers and poor soldier candidates as suicide bombers. I guess I few of them were sent back to their recent origins.
          Personally I think congressmen are more scary.

        • TarheelDem says:

          Who was that member of Congress who release classified information about 40 ISIS fighters being back in the US? And when will he be indicted under the Espionage Act of 1917?

        • Don Bacon says:

          Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y.
          Bishop claims that of the 100 or so Americans who have traveled to the Middle East to join ISIL’s ranks, some 40 have returned and are currently being surveilled by the FBI, according to his remarks, which were filmed and uploaded to YouTube last week.
          “One of the concerns is the number of U.S. citizens who have left our country to go join up with ISIS,” Bishop said during the speech. “It is believed there have been some number up to 100 that have done that.”
          “It is also believed that some 40 of those who left this country to join up with ISIS have now returned to our country,” Bishop said, eliciting shocked responses from some in the crowd.

      • Don Bacon says:

        The “political entity” that Dempsey mentioned is probably the most difficult part. H. Clinton traversed during several of them in her tenure as chief Syria colonist, conjuring up various so-called wannabe Syria governments ensconced in various Cairo and Istanbul hotels.

  2. ArizonaBumblebeeper says:

    I would imagine the DOD can employ some of those outstanding trainers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Oh wait, that didn’t turn out so well. Training “moderate rebels” in Saudi Arabia is akin to training the “Contras” in Cuba. With each passing day I am more and more convinced our elites in Washington are either insane, stupid, or both.

    • P J Evans says:

      I seem to recall that this was also how we got involved in Vietnam. (I remember reading encyclopedia-yearbook coverage of Dienbienphu. And all the ‘advisors’ that we sent in the early 60s, that never seemed to get anywhere.)

      • Don Bacon says:

        The advisors sent to Vietnam in the 60’s (I was one) had an impossible task largely because the US was guilty of interfering in Vietnam’s affairs similar (but different) to the US’s interference in Syria affairs. This (Vietnam) was in violation of the 1954 Geneva Accords, as I recall, so it was even a larger US violation.

  3. Don Bacon says:

    It’s a good opportunity for the military to get more money — even the Navy for “increased naval operations in Iraq.” –Really.
    DefenseAlert, Sept. 12, 2014 — The Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget have asked Congress for permission to use wartime dollars to fund increased naval operations in Iraq, according to a Navy official and a reprogramming request obtained by Inside the Navy.
    I guess they’ll be cruisin’ on the Tigris and Euphrates? What a forcefarce.
    “Everybody wants ta get inta the act!”–Jimmy Durante

  4. Don Bacon says:

    GENEVA — The United Nations will have to slash food rations to four million Syrians by 40 percent in October due to a shortage of funds, despite better access to areas in need, a senior U.N. aid official said on Wednesday.
    John Ging, director of operations at the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in an interview that the “break in the pipeline” means greater hunger as a fourth winter of the Syrian civil war sets in.

  5. TarheelDem says:

    Some important things to notice about this.

    1. The funds neither have to be spent immediately or spent at all. But John McCain will be hearing from some DoD or CIA source or from the Saudi lobby how fast they are going to the folks he wants them going to. Will McCain and Graham now shut up about this? Before a midterm, my guess is No.

    2. Congress has implicitly approved the most controversial part of the strategy the President outlined in his speech. It is the typical post-WWII declaration of war by resolution or appropriation. While its surface intent (and it does do that) is to give the President flexibility from specific war aims, its primary purpose is to allow Congress to dodge responsibility for declaring war. Misssion accomplished. Even the roll call relationships among those who voted previously to arm the “moderate” rebels and their position on this vote is so confused as obscure politicians to hang this around in the midterms. Watch for few anti-war effects in the mid-term voting. Few anti-war voters are in districts in which their vote or absence of voting makes a difference.

    Win for President. Win for Congress. Win for McCain and Graham. Win for poor policy.

    • Don Bacon says:

      Yes, war by appropriation. “We need to support the troops” (until they come home all broken and then forget them.) The Obama apologists claim that HAP-less (hope and promise – less) was against the Iraq War, Operation Iraqi Freedom, but Obama voted for every appropriation (along with H. Clinton).
      Upon arriving in the Senate, Sen. Obama supported every funding bill for Iraq, some $300 billion, until he started running for President. [2005 Vote # 117, HR1268, 5/10/05; 2005 Vote # 326, S1042, 11/15/05; 2006 Vote # 112, HR4939, 5/4/06; 2006 Vote # 239; 2006 Vote # 186, S2766, 6/22/06; HR5631, 9/7/06]

      • TarheelDem says:

        Politicians who don’t follow the “peace with honor” line are severely punished. They disappear from politics. It’s a political culture trait that Richard Nixon developed the still existent POW-MIA movement with its black flags in order to exploit. If that doesn’t work, the warhawks start yammering about Neville Chamberlain. WWII PTSD is still alive and well.

        Somehow convincing American voters is a low priority for those who are convinced that our foreign policy is out of whack. Nonetheless there are a few of us still trying – even voters in Graham’s constitutency. Even veterans who are voters in Graham’s constituency see what’s going on. One or two.

        There are much more than one player in foreign policy in bureaucratic governments the size of that in the US. More often than not the President is a spokesman of a consensus of opinions. More often than not that consensus of opinions is incoherent. The consensus the US is operating out of in its response to ISIS is more coherent than most because of the polarization among decision-makers about what constitutes the objective–especially in the run-up to a mid-term when the fate of the opposing party is part of any objective.

        What the military perceives it has been ordered to do and what the CIA perceives it has been ordered to do matter much more that Congressional policy as to the success of US foreign policy. Unfortunately, the current policy allows them to become a runaway operation that does most anything.

        And the bureaucracy knows that it can outlast any President no matter how popular or unpopular.

  6. TarheelDem says:

    Here’s another wrinkle. The politics of a funding shutdown before the midterms. Republicans squelched their shut-down folks for two months in exchange for Pelosi squelching her anti-war folks. The joint kabuki delivered just the requisite votes.

    The legislation combined approval for aid to the rebels with funds to prevent a government shutdown after Sept. 30 into a single vote, making it difficult to measure support for Obama’s new military mission. Begich, for example, said he opposed arming the rebels, but voted for the bill.

    This finally was a “let’s agree to get out of town and go campaign” vote rather than a measured consideration of foreign policy. It was a vote of the incumbent party.

    Wonder what these same folks will think the day after the midterm election. Six weeks of working the plan on the ground will change the situation one way or the other. Are we heading to a lame duck doubling down vote?

  7. Don Bacon says:

    The new war will be run by DOD, eventually, but the existing war is primarily rebels supported by CIA against both Syria and ISIS, and now they need heavy weapons and air support according to this article.
    spiegel, Sep 16

    Now, one of the most important frontlines in the war in northern Syria runs through the town. Some 5,000 rebels have established themselves in the potato fields surrounding Marea in an effort to stop Islamic State jihadists from continuing their advance on Aleppo. . . .
    Thus far, they have been successful — thanks largely to assistance from the US.
    “We are holding our lines, but we aren’t going to attack,” says one of the Syrian rebel commanders who just came to Turkey for two days. The fighters have plenty of arms and ammunition, he said, but also have a fear of the Islamic State and its extreme brutality. “To advance against the Islamic State, we need heavy weaponry, artillery and rocket launchers.” He says that the Americans need to provide Syrian fighters with the kind of weapons that the Islamic State has been able to plunder from the Iraqi army. “We are now waiting for US airstrikes,” the commander says. “Nothing will happen before that.”

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Should we add another $500 million and recalculate the cost of fuel at the pump? Or would that be like adding back into the War Department’s budget the costs of spying, veterans affairs, pensions, the nuclear industry, and funding of “academic” research at nearly every major university in America.

  9. RUKidding says:

    Is ISIS even real? Or just some boogeyman made up to look real, so that the MIC can rake off more money for the 1%?

    How does one determine who is a “moderate” rebel? Does one, for ex, ask the CIA who they trained to be “moderate”? Does the CIA (as funded by the Saudi’s) assign their protégés into various categories: You, Abdul, you will belong to the Outrageous Beheading Rebels. You, Amir, you will be trained to be a Moderate Rebel. And Mohammed, stop playing with that IED and pay attention for the love of Allah?

    BTW, did I read correctly that the Jordanian CIA operations were just shifted to Saudi? Guess it makes the money laundering, payola, etc, a little easier and more direct – eh?

  10. Michael Murry says:

    As the Apartheid Zionist military historian Martin Van Crevald said of the U.S. military trainers of the so-called Iraqi military: “The only thing the Americans can train the Iraqis to do is how to kill Americans. How stupid can they be?”

    From my own experience as a “Vietnamizer” of the now-defunct South Vietnamese navy (July 1970 – January 1972), I can answer that rhetorical question: “Pretty damn stupid.”

    Which only means, of course, that the U.S. military can’t wait to do it all over again, only as Bullwinkle Moose used to say: “This time for sure!”

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