DOD Faces CIA-trained Rebel Army in Syria; 'Ghost Army' in Iraq
December 4, 2014
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Phil Stewart / Reuters & Patrick Cockburn / The Unz Review
As the Pentagon gets ready to "vet” the potential Syrian rebels they hope to train for the new pro-US rebel faction they intend to create to fight ISIS, it's looking pretty easy. They already know most of these guys -- because they already trained them! Meanwhile, in Iraq, Iraq's new Prime Minister Haider al-abaci, has revealed that 50,000 members of the Iraqi Army supposedly trained and armed by the US are "ghost soldiers" who do not exist -- their salaries have been expropriated by corrupt officers.
Pentagon Eyes Same Syria Rebels CIA Already Trained
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(December 2, 2014) -- As the Pentagon gets ready to "vet” the potential Syrian rebels they hope to train for the new pro-US rebel faction they intend to create to fight ISIS, it's looking pretty easy. They already know most of these guys, because they already trained them.
"We're not starting from scratch,” one official noted, adding re-vetting people they already know should take no more than a single day, and many of these worked through the CIA programs from previous years.
The unspoken downside to this is that these same rebels were trained to do the exact same thing they're being trained for this time, and it didn't work before.
The Pentagon estimates they can get 5,400 rebels ready to go in a year, and that they'll need around 15,000 to seriously contest ISIS territory. Yet so far these rebels have been extremely unsuccessful in fighting ISIS and pretty much everyone else they've gone against, so the estimates seem extremely optimistic.
US Expects Some Familiar Faces
Among Syria Rebel Recruits
Phil Stewart / Reuters
WASHINGTON (December 2, 2014) -- The United States is creating a vigorous vetting process to weed out undesirables among the Syrian rebels it will train to fight Islamic State, but some of the new recruits will be familiar faces requiring far more limited screening.
The program is expected to include a number of fighters already known to the US government who could take as little as a day to initially vet, US officials said.
The United States already has ties with networks of Syrian fighters, including through a clandestine CIA program that has already trained rebels and through US government programs to provide non-lethal aid.
"We (the US government) have a current relationship with people on the ground. We are not starting from scratch," one US official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The priority is to screen out human rights violators, spies and rebels who might switch sides.
The Pentagon said on Tuesday that Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia offered to host the training program but declined to discuss names of other nations which might also participate. People familiar with the planning told Reuters that Jordan had also offered to host the program. Jordan's embassy declined to comment.
The program, which is expected to start in the coming months, is at the core of President Barack Obama's strategy in Syria, a multiyear plan to field local forces to halt and eventually roll back Islamic State fighters, while keeping American troops off the battlefield.
TRAINED TO ACT ALONE
The Pentagon has estimated that it can train 5,400 recruits in the first year and that up to 15,000 will be needed to retake areas of eastern Syria controlled by Islamic State. It hopes more training sites might allow training of more recruits.
They will face a thorough vetting, including psychological exams and gathering of biometric data, the official said. Candidates' names would be run through US databases and shared with regional allies for checks.
The level of vetting and training will take account of the fact that the fighters will not be accompanied by US troops on missions.
If a recruit was previously known to the US government, the military might need just a day to verify personal data. If not, the checks may take weeks.
Once in the program, all fighters will be monitored continuously, officials said. Many candidates will be drawn from Syrian towns and villages and be put through an initial training course lasting one or two months.
The goal would be to recruit pre-existing units of 100 to 200 fighters from a Syrian group. But in some cases, the US military may recruit individuals from a geographic area.
"You want to get them back on the battlefield as fast as you can," a second official said.
The US military might also recruit fighters outside Syria, including among refugee populations.
PROGRAM FRAUGHT WITH RISKS
Officials say they would like to accelerate the training, but uncertain local conditions in a country gripped by war made this hard. If a village is under attack, for example, potential recruits will not be able to leave their posts to undergo training.
The vetting and training are meant to minimize risks, including infiltration by the Syrian intelligence services, that trained fighters later side with Islamic State or that recruits later turn their weapons on American forces.
The US military has learned hard lessons about the risks of so-called "green-on-blue" attacks in Afghanistan, where an Afghan soldier shot and killed a US general in August.
The goal is to create forces that, in the near term, would focus on defending territory, but some would get special training to help them take the fight to the Islamic State, in what was described by US officials as a "building block" approach.
How the US Helped Create a Ghost Army in Iraq
Iraq's 50,000 'Ghost Soldiers'
Their officers receive their salaries fraudulently according to the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-abaci
Patrick Cockburn / The Unz Review
(December 1, 2014) -- The Iraqi army includes 50,000 "ghost soldiers" who do not exist, but their officers receive their salaries fraudulently according to the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. "The Prime Minister revealed the existence of 50,000 fictitious names," said a statement after a thorough headcount during the latest salary payments.
The Iraqi army has long been notorious for being wholly corrupt with officers invariably paying for their jobs in order to make money either through drawing the salaries of non-existent soldiers or through various other scams. One Iraqi politician told The Independent a year ago that Iraqi officers "are not soldiers, they are investors".
In the years before the defeat of the army in Mosul in June by a much smaller force from Isis, Iraqi units never conducted training exercises. At the time of Isis's Mosul offensive, government forces in Mosul were meant to total 60,000 soldiers and federal police but the real figure was probably closer to 20,000.
"Ghost" soldiers may never have existed and just be fictitious names added to the roster, or they may once have existed but been killed or deserted without this being officially noted. In either case, the officer in a unit would keep receiving the salary, though he would have to share it with his superiors.
Another scam is for soldiers to kick back part of their salary to their officer in return for staying at home or holding another job but never going near a barracks. Mr Abadi's figure of 50,000 is probably only a modest estimate of the numbers of Iraqi soldiers who play no military role.
Asked why the Iraqi army had disintegrated at Mosul, a retired four-star general said the explanation was "corruption, corruption, corruption". He said that this had become institutionalised when the US was building a new Iraqi army after dissolving the old one in 2003.
The Pentagon insisted that supplies of food and other necessities be outsourced to private companies. The general said that as a result the Iraqi government might be paying for a battalion with a nominal strength of 600 men, but which in fact had only 200 soldiers. Profits would be shared between officers and commercial companies supposedly supplying the army.
Another source of earnings for officers are checkpoints on the roads, which act like customs barriers on national frontiers. All goods being transported have to pay a tariff and this will again go into the pockets of the officer corps. These will have paid highly for promotion, with the bribe for becoming a colonel $200,000 (£127,000) and a divisional commander $2 million. This money would usually be borrowed and paid back out earnings.
When fighting began in Anbar province at the start of this year as Isis seized territory, Iraqi army units often found that the supply system was so corrupt and dysfunctional that they did not receive enough food or even ammunition. Soldiers going to the front complained that they received only four clips of ammunition for their Kalashnikovs.
It will be difficult to reform the army, which nominally had 15 divisions before the fall of Mosul on 10 June. The former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki controlled military appointments out of his own office and gave senior jobs only to those who were personally loyal to him. Those who were not, or had failed to bribe the right people, were marginalised or retired as were most Sunni Arab officers who might have had military experience in Saddam Hussein's army.
The top commanders of the Iraqi army abandoned their troops when the battle for Mosul was at its height, fleeing by helicopter to the Kurdish capital Irbil.
Despite pledges to rebuild the army and the arrival of American trainers, Baghdad government forces lost most of Anbar province in October with bases being besieged and overrun by Isis without being relieved or supplied from the outside. Instead, Baghdad has been relying on three large Shia militias that are partly under the control of Iran.
Reprinted from The Independent
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