Mike Giglio / BuzzFeed & Justin Raimondo / AntiWar.com – 2016-02-22 00:55:20
America Is Now Fighting A Proxy War With Itself In Syria
Mike Giglio / BuzzFeed
ISTANBUL (February 20, 2016) — American proxies are now at war with each other in Syria.
Officials with Syrian rebel battalions that receive covert backing from one arm of the US government told BuzzFeed News that they recently began fighting rival rebels supported by another arm of the US government.
The infighting between American proxies is the latest setback for the Obama administration’s Syria policy and lays bare its contradictions as violence in the country gets worse.
The confusion is playing out on the battlefield — with the US effectively engaged in a proxy war with itself. “It’s very strange, and I cannot understand it,” said Ahmed Othman, the commander of the US-backed rebel battalion Furqa al-Sultan Murad, who said he had come under attack from US-backed Kurdish militants in Aleppo this week.
Furqa al-Sultan Murad receives weapons from the US and its allies as part of a covert program, overseen by the CIA, that aids rebel groups struggling to overthrow the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, according to rebel officials and analysts tracking the conflict.
The Kurdish militants, on the other hand, receive weapons and support from the Pentagon as part of US efforts to fight ISIS. Known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, they are the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s strategy against the extremists in Syria and coordinate regularly with US airstrikes.
Yet as Assad and his Russian allies have routed rebels around Aleppo in recent weeks — rolling back Islamist factions and moderate US allies alike, as aid groups warn of a humanitarian catastrophe — the YPG has seized the opportunity to take ground from these groups, too.
In the face of public objections from US officials and reportedly backed by Russian airstrikes, the YPG has overrun key villages in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib. It now threatens the town of Azaz, on the border with Turkey, through which rebel groups have long received crucial supplies.
Over the weekend, Turkey began shelling YPG positions around Azaz in response, raising another difficult scenario for the US in which its proxy is under assault from its NATO ally.
Yet as America has looked on while Russia and Syria target its moderate rebel partners, it has failed to stop the YPG from attacking them too. “That is a major problem,” said Andrew Tabler, a Syria specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It’s not just that it’s a nonsense policy. It’s that we’re losing influence so rapidly to the Russians that people just aren’t listening to us anymore.”
Othman, the Furqa al-Sultan Murad commander, said the YPG tried to seize two areas of Aleppo under his control, resulting in firefights that left casualties on both sides. He had captured seven YPG fighters and was holding them prisoner, he added.
Othman’s group receives weapons from the US and its allies, including TOW anti-tank missiles, he said, and fights Assad as well as ISIS. The aid is part of a long-running CIA effort approved by Congress and coordinated from an operations room in Turkey with participation from international allies of the rebellion such as Saudi Arabia.
Othman said he was in regular contact with his American handlers about the problems on the ground. “The Americans must stop [the YPG] — they must tell them you are attacking groups that we support just like we support you,” he said. “But they are just watching. I don’t understand US politics.”
Officials with three other groups — the Northern Division, Jaysh al-Mujahideen and a coalition called Jabhat al-Shamiya — that have received support from the operations room also said they were now battling the YPG in northern Syria.
“There are many groups supported by [the operations room] that are fighting the YPG right now,” said the Northern Division’s Col. Ahmed Hamada, who added that some of his fighters had received US training in the past.
An official with the Turkish government criticized the US for what he described as a Syria policy gone awry. “The YPG is taking land and villages from groups that are getting American aid,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject. “These are groups that are not only getting American aid. Some of them also got training from the Americans.”
The official added that US-backed Arab rebel groups had seen their support dwindle of late, while the YPG was benefiting from a surge of interest from both Washington and Moscow. “The Americans are not giving the moderate rebels enough material. They are not providing any political support,” he said. “And they did not stop the YPG from attacking them.”
“They said we are not in control of the YPG in [those areas],” he added. “That’s the official answer. It doesn’t make any sense to us. What can I say?”
In an emailed statement, Col. Patrick J. Ryder, a spokesman for the US Central Command, which oversees support for the YPG, said he had no information to provide “regarding potential friction between various opposition groups.”
“Syria continues to be a very complex and challenging environment,” he said. “I can tell you that we remain focused on supporting indigenous anti-[ISIS] ground forces in their fight against [ISIS].”
A State Department official acknowledged the increasingly problematic situation. “We’ve expressed to all parties that recent provocative moves in northern Syria, which have only served to heighten tensions and lessen the focus on [ISIS], are counterproductive and undermine our collective, cooperative efforts in northern Syria to degrade and defeat [ISIS],” he told BuzzFeed News, likewise speaking on condition of anonymity.
A spokesman for the YPG declined to comment. Yet the group appears to be battling Islamists and US-backed moderates alike, said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “The YPG has also been physically capturing territory [around] Azaz, amid Russian bombing and regime progress further south in Aleppo province,” he said. “I see these moves as opportunistic, capitalizing on the insurgent losses in the province to increase YPG territory.”
The YPG is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, the insurgent force warring with the Turkish government in the country’s restive southeast. Both Washington and Ankara list the PKK as a terror group. Yet to Turkey’s increasing anger, the US has sought to differentiate between the PKK and the YPG, promoting the latter as a key partner.
In late January, Brett McGurk, President Obama’s special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, paid a visit to the YPG in the Syrian town of Kobane, which US airstrikes had helped the group defend from ISIS last year.
The YPG fits well with the Obama administration’s growing hesitance to confront Assad: it has long maintained a dÃ©tente with the Syrian government, focusing instead on pushing back ISIS and other extremists from Kurdish land.
As part of its embrace of the YPG, the Pentagon has propped up a new YPG-dominated military coalition called the Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) and encouraged smaller Arab battalions to join. In October, the US government air-dropped a crate of weapons to the SDF in Syria, and it has also embedded special forces advisors with the group.
This is both a bid to give US support to the YPG some political cover and a nod to the reality that driving ISIS from its Sunni Arab strongholds will require significant help from Sunni Arab fighters.
A Department of Defense official sought to distance US efforts from recent YPG offensives around Aleppo. He said the US was supporting the group east of the Euphrates River, in its fight against ISIS, but not in its new campaign against rebel groups to the west. “Some of the Kurdish groups west of the Euphrates” have been “engaging with some Syrian opposition groups,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“What’s important here is that we are not providing any direct support to these groups,” he added. “Our operations have been focused on the SDF east of the Euphrates as they fight ISIS.”
The battle between America’s two proxies reflects the competing impulses of the Obama administration’s Syria policy. “The SDF model is meant to replace the failed [operations room] model,” said Nicholas Heras, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security.
Yet he noted that groups like Furqa al-Sultan Murad are battling ISIS as well as Assad — and still considered a bulwark against the extremists by the US “It is a front-line combatant against ISIS,” he said of the battalion.
The recent clashes could make it difficult for the US to build the crucial Arab component of its ISIS fight, the Washington Institute’s Tabler said. “If this continues, the US is only going to have one option it can work with, which is the YPG. It’s not going to have the Arab option,” he said. “Which would be fine if the Kurds were the majority of the Syrian population, but they’re not. We need Sunni Arabs to defeat ISIS.”
Mike Giglio is BuzzFeed News/ Middle East Correspondent. With additional reporting from Munzer al-Awad in Turkey.
The United States versus America
Justin Raimondo / AntiWar.com
(February 21, 2016) — Here’s the final proof that our foreign policy of global meddling has gone off the deep end: the two Syrian factions we are subsidizing are now battling one another.
The latest iteration of the “moderate” Islamist jihadists we’ve been backing recently engaged in a pitched battle with the Kurdish “People’s Protection Units” (YPG). Both are recipients of US tax dollars and the Kurds have the luxury of US “advisors” embedded in their ranks.
In effect, one branch of our gargantuan national security bureaucracy is conducting a proxy war against another branch — and if that doesn’t underscore how irrational and out of control our foreign policy mandarins are, then I don’t know what will.
The civil war in Syria, which was started by Islamists, and actively encouraged by longstanding US efforts to overthrow strongman Bashar al-Assad, has no “good guys.”
The Islamists — gathered together in a bewildering and ever-shifting array of alliances and “united fronts” — are head-chopping totalitarians who want to create an Islamic state: their only difference with the ISIS-inspired “Islamic State” is over tactics, and which gang of thugs gets to be kings-of-the-mountain. They are supposedly fighting ISIS, but most of their efforts seem to be directed at toppling Assad and destroying the last secular outposts in Syria.
And the Kurds are no angels, either. In spite of their lionization by the left-leaning media, the YPG is the Syrian branch of a terrorist organization known as the Kurdish Workers Party, which has carried out deadly attacks on civilian targets in Turkey.
Furthermore, they are not exactly liberal democrats: they ruthlessly suppress any and all internal opposition, forcing noncombatants to join their ranks, recruiting child soldiers, and kidnapping and murdering Arab activists. Territory under their control is subject to the ethnic cleansing of non-Kurdish residents, especially Arabs.
Why are we backing any of these groups?
The ostensible reason is the necessity of fighting our never-ending “war on terrorism,” and yet we are protecting if not actively backing the very terrorist group whose attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon inaugurated this dark chapter in our history: Al Qaeda.
This is incredibly hard for ordinary Americans to process: indeed, it seems completely unbelievable. And yet it’s true, as this report from the Washington Post on the progress of efforts to initiate a ceasefire in the Syrian civil war makes all too clear:
“One of the many problems to be overcome is a differing definition of what constitutes a terrorist group. In addition to the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Russia and Syria have labeled the entire opposition as terrorists.
“Jabhat al-Nusra, whose forces are intermingled with moderate rebel groups in the northwest near the Turkish border, is particularly problematic. Russia was said to have rejected a US proposal to leave Jabhat al-Nusra off-limits to bombing as part of a cease-fire, at least temporarily, until the groups can be sorted out.
Don’t be fooled: “Jabhat al-Nusra” is just another name for the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.
So why is our government protecting the crazed terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center?
The reason is because the “Free Syrian Army,” the “vetted” sock puppets of Washington, aren’t any good at fighting: they have suffered a series of defections to more effective jihadist groups, namely ISIS and al-Nusra.
And since the United States isn’t that interested in fighting ISIS to begin with — and is, instead, focused on bringing down Assad — they have effectively joined in a united front with Osama bin Laden’s heirs.
The original purpose of our “war on terrorism” — the destruction of Islamist radicalism and the eradication of al-Qaeda — is now turned on its head. Instead of fighting them, we are fighting alongside them.
This is a direct result of the policy pursued by Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State: it was Mrs. Clinton, in tandem with then CIA director David Petraeus, who argued for an all out effort to overthrow Assad using the Islamists as a battering ram. President Obama resisted, but — having turned his foreign policy over to the Clintonians early on — he adopted a watered-down version of this misguided Machiavellianism, with results that are all too apparent in the current imbroglio.
With Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel all pouncing like vultures on prostrate Syria, and Russia intervening to prop up Damascus, the potential for World War III has never been greater. Syria is the Balkans of the Middle East, with every neighboring country plotting and scheming to take advantage of its weakness — and we are right in the middle of it.
We have no legitimate reason for intervening in Syria’s civil war: let the Russians take care of ISIS — which they are doing far more effectively than we are, in spite of the Western media’s propagandistic talking points which aver that Putin is only attacking the US-backed opposition. The Russians are wiping ISIS out, thus depriving the War Party in Washington of their pretext for US intervention. And standing behind the “get Assad” campaign is the Israel lobby, which, as usual, is eager to have the US do Bibi’s dirty work for him by taking out yet another enemy of the Zionist project.
Our policy of backing Syrian jihadists — the very same gang that attacked us on 9/11 — is nothing less than treason. It hasn’t backfired domestically on this administration solely because the American people just haven’t been informed of it. That’s why we need your help.
Antiwar.com’s mission is to educate Americans about the crimes our government is committing in our name. And when they find out that we’re backing those who murdered over 3,000 people on September 11, 2001, their anger will sweep the warlords of Washington into the Potomac. That day may not be very far off: there are many indications that Americans are waking up to the treason in their midst. But we can’t depend on the “mainstream” media to participate in that awakening: they are owned by the War Party, literally.
That’s why Antiwar.com is so important, especially now — as the Syrian crisis veers out of control. But we can’t continue to educate the American people without your support — your financial as well as moral support. The War Party has dozens of “thinktanks” and lobbying groups with multi-millions to spend: they churn out war propaganda 24/7. We, on the other hand, only have â€¦ you.
We need your help to keep going — before those war clouds looming on the horizon start spurting thunderbolts. So please — make your tax-deductible donation today — before it’s too late.
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