[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.
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 civil war.
The fighting has intensified over the past two months, as 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
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
Bashar Assad, fight the Islamic State militant group and battle
one another all at the same time.
"It is an enormous challenge," said Rep. 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 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.
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
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 Arab Spring in 2011. It has long been
a critical way station for supplies and fighters coming from Turkey
"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.
More information about the pjw-list