Amid Even More Training Failures, US Frames Syrian Effort as Just Starting. Again.

Alert readers here who have kept their scorecards up to date know that the “secret” US effort to train rebels in Syria actually began as early as November of 2012, more than two and a half years ago, even though Obama did his best to obscure that date once it became expedient to nudge the date of entry for the first graduates of that program. The US later decided to go above-board with the training effort for Syria (after spectacular failures of identifying “moderates”), and last fall approved $500 million to a program to train and arm those elusive “moderates” once again. Despite the huge expenditure authorized for the program, it turns out that the US appears to have overlooked a key detail: the “moderate” rebels whom they seek to now fight only ISIS and not Assad simply don’t exist. We can only presume that those who wish to fight Assad are funneled to the covert program, which appears to have been put into place to topple Assad from power.

Robert Burns of AP has a story today describing how the US program has failed to produce the thousands of trainees that were planned:

Fewer than 100 Syrian rebels are currently being trained by the U.S. military to fight the Islamic State group, a tiny total for a sputtering program with a stated goal of producing 5,400 fighters a year.

The training effort is moving so slowly that critics question whether it can produce enough capable fighters quickly enough to make a difference. Military officials said last week that they still hope for 3,000 by year’s end. Privately, they acknowledge the trend is moving in the wrong direction.


The main problem thus far has been finding enough Syrian recruits untainted by extremist affiliations or disqualified by physical or other flaws. Of approximately 6,000 volunteers, about 1,500 have passed muster and await movement to training camps in other countries. Citing security concerns, the Pentagon will not say exactly how many are in training. Officials said that as of Friday, the number was under 100 and that none has completed the program.

“We have set the bar very high on vetting,” said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, the Central Command special operations commander who is heading the program, wants volunteers with more than a will to fight.

“We are trying to recruit and identify people who … can be counted on … to fight, to have the right mindset and ideology,” and at the same time be willing to make combating IS their first priority, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the House Armed Services Committee on June 17.

“It turns out to be very hard to identify people who meet both of those criteria,” Carter said.

Many Syrian rebel volunteers prefer to use their training to fight the government of President Bashar Assad, the original target of their revolution. While IS has been a brutal occupant of much of their country, the rebels see the extremists as fighting a parallel war.

Ah, but fear not, dear US war mongers! Burns reports that when Tammy Duckworth recently asked Joint Chiefs Chair Dempsey if this training effort was worth continuing, he had this ringing endorsement of the the program: “It’s a little too soon to give up on it.”

So, we’ve had the covert training going on for 32 months. We approved $500 million for open training nine months ago, but have under a hundred trainees in the program now, with zero graduates. And yet, if you ask the military, training in Syria is just getting started and it’s too soon to give up on it. Recognizing failure is just not possible in the US military.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

6 replies
  1. TarheelDem says:

    Meanwhile the Kurdish YPG forces have cut off (last report I saw) the border crossing from Turkey to Raqqa. Furthermore Turkey’s tolerance at a minimum for ISIS transport across this border is beginning to be reported on. And reports are that KRG forces are establishing logistics support for the YPG seeking to close the Turkish border from Iraq to Kobane. The US is supplying the KRG as well.

    There are allegations of an Israeli clandestine alliance with the Nusra Front to counter the Druze.

    And there are non-specific allegations of Israeli support of ISIS against Iranian-Shia forces in Iraq and against Hezbollah in western Syria/eastern Lebanon.

    It looks like all the outsiders are betting on multiple, possibly conflicting forces.

    The cross-cutting interests and alliances have become total confusion.

    Meanwhile the Iran nuclear issue hangs in the balance. Failure there could have repercussions in Syraqistan.

  2. bloopie2 says:

    “So, we’ve had the covert training going on for 32 months. We approved $500 million for open training nine months ago, but have under a hundred trainees in the program now, with zero graduates. And yet, if you ask the military, training in Syria is just getting started and it’s too soon to give up on it. Recognizing failure is just not possible in the US military.” Sounds like a wife training her husband, no? Sometimes it just takes a while longer to get to the “Yes, dear” stage.

  3. orionATL says:

    here we go ’round the mulberry bush,

    the mulberry bush,

    the mulberry bush,

    here we go ’round the mulberry bush,

    after fourteen fuccin’ years.
    free-dom !
    free-dom !
    free-dom !

  4. Les says:

    There’s also the Army of Conquest which is an alliance of rebel groups and has commanders from ISIS and Al-Nusra Front. It’s backed by all of the major governments involved in the war against Syria whereas ISIS, Al-Nusra Front, Jabhat Al-Nusra, and others were identified early on as backed by either Saudi Arabia or Qatar.

    • wayoutwest says:

      I don’t think you will find any Islamic State personnel fighting with the AoC or al-Nusra but you may find them fighting against them. In fact the IS has cut off all fuel supplies to the AoC’s recently captured areas .

      There have been plenty of rumors about the IS or al-Nusra being backed by the House of Saud but they remain rumors because there is absolutely no evidence for that counter historical suspicion, Iran of course would like people to swallow this nonsense.

  5. Don Bacon says:

    Spending $500 million is a good measure of success, for them. I’m sure that a number of them are quite comfortable with it. They may need even more. It’s a little too soon to give up on it.

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