Well, at least we had the old one, the Free Syrian Army, on the paper and digital pixils of press releases.
Hanna Allam reports for McClatchy Newspapers, "John Allen, the retired Marine general in charge of coordinating the U.S.-led coalition’s response to the Islamic State ... said the United States’ intent is to start from scratch in creating a home-grown, moderate counterweight to the Islamic State." (It’s official: U.S. will build new Syrian rebel force to battle Islamic State)
I think they should call themselves the "Army of Revolution, Victory and Nation" so they could have the English initials ARVN.
Because we're not just repeating the stock exercise of training the South Vietnamese Army, as we did in Iraq. This time we're recruiting all the soldiers, too!
I mean, it's like the Very Serious Person David Ignatius said back in August 2003 during that phase of the Thirty Years War in Iraq, "America's job is to give Iraqis the tools to create a modern, secure country -- and then get out." (Think Strategy, Not Numbers Washington Post 08/26/2003)
And that's what we did. Except, you know, the getting out part proved to be harder than expected.
Allen's comments are really striking:
For most of the three years of the Syrian conflict, the U.S. ground game hinged on rebel militias that are loosely affiliated under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, or FSA. Their problems were no secret: a lack of cohesion, uneven fighting skills and frequent battlefield coordination with the al Qaida loyalists of the Nusra Front.The plain meaning of what the article reports him saying is, the effort to train the Iraqi Army has failed badly, and we're having to redo it. And redoing in Iraq what we failed to do in years of direct US occupation is going to be given priority over creating a pro-American, American-directed Sunni Syrian guerrilla group to replace the Free Syrian Army (FSA) whose main accomplishment seems to have been to train a few Sunni guerrillas who took their weapons and training and joined Islamic State.
This time, Allen said, the United States and its allies will work to strengthen the political opposition and make sure it’s tied to "a credible field force" that will have undergone an intense vetting process. ...
The Syrian arena is important, Allen said, but to the U.S., "the emergency in Iraq right now is foremost in our thinking." There will be a simultaneous training-and-equipping campaign for Iraq, where the U.S.-trained military collapsed during the Islamic State’s summer offensive.
Allen said the new training program is “for those elements of the Iraqi national security forces that will have to be refurbished and then put back into the field,” with the ultimate goal of reclaiming Iraqi territories seized by the Islamic State.
Allen sounded confident that the United States and its allies could juggle two massive training efforts even as the Islamic State has shown itself to be resilient under weeks of coalition airstrikes.
“We have the capacity to do both, and there is significant coalition interest in participating in both,” Allen said of the twin force-building efforts in Iraq and Syria.
And that's just the level of failure we know about from the public record.
Given these failures, it's worth paying attention to this more recent piece by VSP Ignatius, which reads like a White House press release repurposed as a Washington Post column, Obama faces growing pressure to escalate in Iraq and Syria 10/14/2014. It reads as like a list of pending escalation actions:
- Using Apache helicopters, presumably flown by Americans, in direct combat to assist Iraqi forces to counter IS troops in Anbar province.
- "Stepping up airstrikes over Iraq and Syria" by up to ten times the previous level.
- "Accelerate the training of the Iraqi army and a new Sunni national guard." Because our extensive training program in Iraq for years was so very successful, one must suppose. "Hundreds of foreign trainers, drawn from the special forces of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Australia and other nations, will be working with the Iraqi military. A similar effort is needed for the Sunni guard." Traning the Sunni "guard" sounds suspiciously like the support for Sunni militias and death squads that was the centerpiece of The Surge. Which also produced so obvious long-term benefits.
- "Create a border strip in northern Syria that’s safe from air attacks by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad," which has been a key goal of Turkey, which would serve their priorities of, in order, keep Kurds (allies of the Syrian regime) out of Turkey, help overthrown the Assad regime, and provide a base of operations against IS.
- "Speed the training of the moderate Free Syrian Army so it can battle the Islamic State’s militants." I guess that one's out now! "Some officials argue for doubling the planned force to 10,000 and speeding completion of training camps in Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia." Training sounds so benign in this context, doesn't it?
- "Warn the Assad government that the U.S.-led coalition won’t permit attacks on the moderate opposition. Given the reluctance of the United States, Turkey and other nations to send ground troops into Syria, and the popular hatred of Assad’s army, the FSA represents what generals call the “defeat mechanism” against the extremists. Assad must stop assaulting these forces that can liberate Sunni areas from the Islamic State." What? Two days ago the FSA was the "'defeat mechanism' against the extremists"? And today they're out of the picture. (Also, Also, if the Sunni ARVN is going to be the new "'defeat mechanism' against the extremists," which presumably means IS - doesn't that mean the new moderate Sunni ARVN is going to be effectively fighting for New Hitler Assad if they're going to prioritize the war against New Hitler IS? We're on so many sides in this Non-War War, it's really hard to keep up!
Finally and most painfully, authorize U.S. advisers to join the “assault echelon” when Iraqis go into battle against the extremists. This will be the hardest recommendation for Obama to accept, because it fuzzes his pledge not to use combat troops in Iraq. But one official says putting U.S. advisers “in harm’s way” will be crucial in stiffening Iraqi resolve. Dempsey said Sunday that the “decisive” battles for Mosul and other extremist strongholds “will require a different kind of advising and assisting” from what Obama initially advocated.Back to direct combat on a larger scale that spotters on the ground to help target airstrikes or Apache flights in support of Iraqi forces. And if "putting U.S. advisers 'in harm’s way' will be crucial in stiffening Iraqi resolve," doesn't that mean its an American war?