[pjw] NEWS: In Syria, CIA-armed militias fight Pentagon-armed ones (LA Times 3/26)

Peace and Justice Works pjw at pjw.info
Sat Apr 9 15:19:52 EDT 2016

I feel as if the headline itself speaks to the absurdity of US policy, 
which, as it did with the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s and many other eamples, 
involved arming two sides of a conflict; in this case there are many more 
than two sides.
dan h
peace and justice works iraq affinity group

CIA-armed militias are shooting at Pentagon-armed ones in Syria
    Nabih Bulos, W.J. Hennigan, Brian Bennett Los Angeles Times

    Syrian militias armed by different parts of the U.S. war machine have
    begun to fight each other on the plains between the besieged city of
    Aleppo and the Turkish border, highlighting how little control U.S.
    intelligence officers and military planners have over the groups they
    have financed and trained in the bitter 5-year-old [4]civil war.

    The fighting has intensified over the past two months, as [5]CIA-armed
    units and Pentagon-armed ones have repeatedly shot at each other as
    they have maneuvered through contested territory on the northern
    outskirts of Aleppo, U.S. officials and rebel leaders have confirmed.

    In mid-February, a CIA-armed militia called Fursan al Haq, or Knights
    of Righteousness, was run out of the town of Marea, about 20 miles
    north of Aleppo, by Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces moving in
    from Kurdish-controlled areas to the east.

    "Any faction that attacks us, regardless from where it gets its
    support, we will fight it," said Maj. Fares Bayoush, a leader of Fursan
    al Haq.

    Rebel fighters described similar clashes in the town of Azaz, a key
    transit point for fighters and supplies between Aleppo and the Turkish
    border, and March 3 in the Aleppo neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsud.

    The attacks come amid continued heavy fighting in Syria and illustrate
    the difficulty facing U.S. efforts to coordinate among dozens of armed
    groups that are trying to overthrow the government of President
    [6]Bashar Assad, fight the [7]Islamic State militant group and battle
    one another all at the same time.

    "It is an enormous challenge," said Rep. [8]Adam Schiff of California,
    the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who described the
    clashes between U.S.-supported groups as "a fairly new phenomenon."

    "It is part of the three-dimensional chess that is the Syrian
    battlefield," he said.

    The area in northern Syria around Aleppo, the country's second-largest
    city, features not only a war between the Assad government and its
    opponents, but also periodic battles against Islamic State militants,
    who control much of eastern Syria and also some territory to the
    northwest of the city, and long-standing tensions among the ethnic
    groups that inhabit the area, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen.
    Once they cross the border into Syria, you lose a substantial amount of
    control or ability to control their actions. Ñ Jeffrey White, former
    Defense Intelligence Agency official

    "This is a complicated, multisided war where our options are severely
    limited," said a U.S. official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly
    on the matter. "We know we need a partner on the ground. We can't
    defeat ISIL without that part of the equation, so we keep trying to
    forge those relationships." ISIL is an acronym for the Islamic State.

    President Barack Obama recently authorized a new Pentagon plan to train
    and arm Syrian rebel fighters, relaunching a program that was suspended
    in the fall after a string of embarrassing setbacks, which included
    recruits being ambushed and handing over much of their U.S.-issued
    ammunition and trucks to an [9]al-Qaida affiliate.

    Amid the setbacks, the Pentagon late last year deployed about 50
    special operations forces to Kurdish-held areas in northeastern Syria
    to better coordinate with local militias and help ensure U.S.-backed
    rebel groups aren't fighting one another.

    But such skirmishes have become routine.

    Last year, the Pentagon helped create a new military coalition, the
    Syrian Democratic Forces. The goal was to arm the group and prepare it
    to take territory away from Islamic State in eastern Syria and to
    provide information for U.S. airstrikes.

    The group is dominated by Kurdish outfits known as the People's
    Protection Units, or YPG. A few Arab units have joined the force in
    order to prevent it from looking like an invading Kurdish army, and it
    has received airdrops of weapons and supplies and assistance from U.S.
    Special Forces.

    Gen. Joseph Votel, now commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and
    the incoming head of Central Command, said this month that about 80
    percent of the fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces were Kurdish.

    The U.S. backing for a heavily Kurdish armed force has been a point of
    tension with the Turkish government, which has a long history of
    crushing Kurdish rebellions and doesn't want to see Kurdish units
    control more of its southern border.

    The CIA, meanwhile, has its own operations center inside Turkey from
    which it has been directing aid to rebel groups in Syria, providing
    them with TOW antitank missiles from Saudi Arabian weapons stockpiles.

    While the Pentagon's actions are part of an overt effort by the U.S.
    and its allies against the Islamic State, the CIA's backing of militias
    is part of a separate covert U.S. effort aimed at keeping pressure on
    the Assad government in hopes of prodding the Syrian leader to the
    negotiating table.

    At first, the two different sets of fighters were primarily operating
    in widely separated areas of Syria Ñ the Pentagon-backed Syrian
    Democratic Forces in the northeastern part of the country and the
    CIA-backed groups further west.

    But, over the past several months, Russian airstrikes against
    anti-Assad fighters in northwestern Syria have weakened them.

    That created an opening that allowed the Kurdish-led groups to expand
    their zone of control to the outskirts of Aleppo, bringing them into
    more frequent conflict with the CIA-backed outfits.
    We'll fight all who aim to divide Syria or harm its people. Ñ Suqour
    Al-Jabal Brigade fighter

    "Fighting over territory in Aleppo demonstrates how difficult it is for
    the U.S. to manage these really localized and, in some cases,
    entrenched conflicts," said Nicholas Heras, an expert on the Syrian
    civil war at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in
    Washington. "Preventing clashes is one of the constant topics in the
    joint operations room with Turkey."

    Over the course of the Syrian civil war, the town of Marea has been on
    the front line of the Islamic State's attempts to advance across Aleppo
    province toward the rest of northern Syria.

    On Feb. 18, the Syrian Democratic Forces attacked the town.

    A fighter with the Suqour Al-Jabal Brigade, a group with links to the
    CIA, said intelligence officers of the U.S.-led coalition fighting the
    Islamic State know their group has clashed with the Pentagon-trained

    "The MOM knows we fight them," he said, referring to the joint
    operations center in southern Turkey, which is known as MOM from the
    acronym of its name in Turkish, Musterek Operasyon Merkezi.

    "We'll fight all who aim to divide Syria or harm its people," said the
    fighter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

    Marea is home to many of the original Islamist fighters who took up
    arms against Assad during the [16]Arab Spring in 2011. It has long been
    a critical way station for supplies and fighters coming from Turkey
    into Aleppo.

    "Attempts by Syrian Democratic Forces to take Marea was a great
    betrayal and was viewed as a further example of a Kurdish conspiracy to
    force them from Arab and Turkmen lands," Heras said.

    The clashes brought the U.S. and Turkish officials to "loggerheads," he

    After diplomatic pressure from the U.S., the militia withdrew to the
    outskirts of the town as a sign of good faith, he said.

    But continued fighting among different U.S.-backed groups may be
    inevitable, experts on the region said.

    "Once they cross the border into Syria, you lose a substantial amount
    of control or ability to control their actions," said Jeffrey White, a
    former Defense Intelligence Agency official. "You certainly have the
    potential for it becoming a larger problem as people fight for
    territory and control of the northern border area in Aleppo."

    W.J. Hennigan and Brian Bennett reported from Washington and special
    correspondent Nabih Bulos from Amman.

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