How Republics Perish: US-Backed Forces Now Fighting US-Backed Forces in Syria
February 13, 2016
Patrick J. Buchanan / AntiWar.org & Nancy A. Youssef / The Daily Beast
If you believed America's longest war, in Afghanistan, was coming to an end, be advised: It is not. Departing US commander Gen. John Campbell says there will need to be US boots on the ground "for years to come." Meanwhile, militias that once fought ISIS with US help are now working with Russian and Iranian forces to crush US-backed rebels in the strategic Syrian city of Aleppo -- armed with US tanks and small arms.
How Republics Perish
Patrick J. Buchanan / AntiWar.com
"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."
-- James Madison
(February 11, 2016) -- If you believed America's longest war, in Afghanistan, was coming to an end, be advised: It is not.
Departing US commander Gen. John Campbell says there will need to be US boots on the ground "for years to come." Making good on President Obama's commitment to remove all US forces by next January, said Campbell, "would put the whole mission at risk."
"Afghanistan has not achieved an enduring level of security and stability that justifies a reduction of our support. . . . 2016 could be no better and possibly worse than 2015."
Translation: A US withdrawal would risk a Taliban takeover with Kabul becoming the new Saigon and our Afghan friends massacred.
Fifteen years in, and we are stuck.
Nor is America about to end the next longest war in its history: Iraq. Defense Secretary Ash Carter plans to send units of the 101st Airborne back to Iraq to join the 4,000 Americans now fighting there. "ISIS is a cancer," says Carter. After we cut out the "parent tumor" in Mosul and Raqqa, we will go after the smaller tumors across the Islamic world.
When can Mosul be retaken? "Certainly not this year," says the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart.
Vladimir Putin's plunge into the Syrian civil war with air power appears to have turned the tide in favor of Bashar Assad. The "moderate" rebels are being driven out of Aleppo and tens of thousands of refugees are streaming toward the Turkish border.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to be enraged with the US for collaborating with Syrian Kurds against ISIS and with Obama's failure to follow through on his dictate -- "Assad must go!" There is thus no end in sight to the US wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, nor to the US-backed Saudi war in Yemen, where ISIS and al-Qaida have re-arisen in the chaos.
Indeed, the West is mulling over military intervention in Libya to crush ISIS there and halt the refugee flood into Europe. Yet, despite America's being tied down in wars from the Maghreb to Afghanistan, not one of these wars were among the three greatest threats identified last summer by Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
"Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security" said Dunford, "If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I would have to point to Russia . . . if you look at their behavior, it's nothing short of alarming."
Dunford agreed with John McCain that we ought to provide antitank weapons and artillery to Ukraine, for, without it, "they're not going to be able to protect themselves against Russian aggression." But what would we do if Putin responded by sending Russian troops to occupy Mariupol and build a land bridge to Crimea? Send US troops to retake Mariupol? Are we really ready to fight Russia?
The new forces NATO is moving into the Baltic suggests we are.
Undeniably, disputes have arisen between Russia, and Ukraine and Georgia, which seceded in 1991, over territory. But, also undeniably, many Russians in the 14 nations that seceded, including the Baltic states, never wanted to leave and wish to rejoin Mother Russia.
How do these tribal and territorial conflicts in the far east of Europe so threaten us that US generals are declaring that "Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security"? Asked to name other threats to the United States, Gen. Dunford listed them in this order: China, North Korea, ISIS.
But while Beijing is involved in disputes with Hanoi over the Paracels, with the Philippines over the Spratlys, with Japan over the Senkakus -- almost all of these being uninhabited rocks and reefs -- how does China threaten the United States?
America is creeping ever closer to war with the other two great nuclear powers because we have made their quarrels our quarrels, though at issue are tracts and bits of land of no vital interest to us.
North Korea, which just tested another atomic device and long-range missile, is indeed a threat to us. But why are US forces still up the DMZ, 62 years after the Korean War? Is South Korea, with an economy 40 times that of the North and twice the population, incapable of defending itself?
Apparently slipping in the rankings as a threat to the United States is that runaway favorite of recent years, Iran. Last fall, though, Sen. Ted Cruz reassured us that "the single biggest national security threat facing America right now is the threat of a nuclear Iran."
"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded," wrote James Madison, "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."
Perhaps Madison was wrong. Otherwise, with no end to war on America's horizon, the prospect of this free republic enduring is, well, doubtful.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World. To find out more about Patrick Buchanan and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.
Copyright 2014 Creators.com
US Allies Now Fighting CIA-Backed Rebels
Nancy A. Youssef / The Daily Beast
(February 11, 2016) -- Not long ago, US jets and Shia militias worked together to battle ISIS. Today, those militias are trying to take down American proxies in Syria.
Iraqi militias who once fought ISIS with US help are now working with Russian and Iranian forces to crush American-backed rebels in the strategic Syrian city of Aleppo, two defense officials have told The Daily Beast.
At least three Shia militias involved in successful battles against ISIS in Iraq -- the Badr Brigade, Kata'ib Hezbollah, and the League of the Righteous -- have acknowledged taking casualties in fighting in south and southeast Aleppo province. US defense officials confirmed to The Daily Beast that they believe "at least one" unit of the Badr Brigade is fighting in southern Aleppo alongside other Iraqi militia groups. Those groups are backed by Russian airpower and Iranian troops -- and all of whom are bolstering President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian Arab Army.
Reports on social media say the Iraqi militias in Syria are armed with US tanks and small arms they procured on the Iraqi side of the border. Those reports could not be independently confirmed.
The presence of militias fighting on behalf of Assad -- a dictator that the US has pledged to depose -- is yet another reminder of the tangled alliances that the United States must thread as it pursues seemingly contradictory policies in its battles against the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
In Iraq, these Shia militias were battling on behalf of the US-backed government. In Syria, they are fighting against an American-supported rebel coalition that includes forces armed by the CIA.
In other words: The forces the US once counted on to take back Iraq's cities are the same ones the Russians now are counting on to get Aleppo back. And those militias are fighting units of the American-backed Free Syrian Army -- including the 16th Division, elements of Jaish al Nasr, and Sultan al Murad -- according to Nicholas Heras, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security.
US officials claim not to be alarmed. "On our list of problems, one Badr brigade in Syria is way down there," one US official explained.
But the role of the Shia militias continues to be controversial. The militias are backed and funded by Iran -- Badr, in fact, was created as a branch of the Iranian military. But in Syria, their role is part of the increasingly effective one-two punch of the Russian/Iranian alliance that has given the Syrian government the upper hand in the battle for Aleppo.
US officials agree that without those Iraqi militias, the Syrian Army would be too weak to hold territory on their own.
It is perhaps because of these dynamics that both Russia and the US agreed to a "cessation of hostilities" in Syria late Thursday, to begin in one week. Even if Aleppo fell, Assad forces' hold on the city and the country would be tenuous, at best, and would depend on unending Russian/Iranian support, an unappealing proposition for two states with fragile economies.
For the US, the deal offered hope for ending uncomfortable alliances that had militias that once served it interests fighting opposition forces it was no longer willing to back militarily.
In the last week, Russia has launched hundreds of punishing, largely indiscriminate strikes in Aleppo. That's allowed forces loyal to Assad -- including the Iraqi militias -- to move in and reclaim parts of Aleppo, cutting off the main supply route to the city. According to the Red Cross, at least 50,000 refugees have sought to flee to Turkey since the Russian assault began.
"Without the Russian airstrikes the Shiite militias would not have been as successful," said Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland who studies Shiite militias. At the same time, "It is clear that Iran is routing as many fighters as possible to Syria, particularly on the Aleppo front."
To make matters worse for the US effort in Syria, among the opposition groups now losing territory in Aleppo are groups once backed by the United States.
Unfortunately, those groups are also intermingled with Jabhat al Nusra, al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate and a member of the US list of terrorist organizations. The great irony of Aleppo is that US strikes against the Islamic State have the perverse effect of benefiting al Qaeda.
It was Nusra forces who, in 2013 and 2014, were key in pushing ISIS out of Aleppo. Today Nusra and its allies now are largely fighting back the Russian/Iranian offensive alone.
The fall of Aleppo, Syria's biggest city, would be a major win for Assad supporters and potentially leave Syria with two major rival forces -- ISIS and the Assad regime.
In Iraq, the Shiite militias, known as Popular Mobilization Forces, were key to important wins against the Islamic State in Amiri and Tikrit, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's hometown. With the help of US airstrikes, the militias were able to claim those cities from ISIS and end the jihadist group's land grab across Iraq.
Fighting in Syria is a more lucrative undertaking, however. During the battle for the Iraqi cities of Amerli and Tikrit, militia members earned roughly $720 a month, according to Iraqi government officials. In Syria, the militiamen earn as much as $1,500 a month, Smyth said. The pay increase is a powerful incentive to join the battle -- as if the appeal to sectarian loyalty were not enough.
US officials are quick to say that they have never directly coordinated with the militias -- small wonder, given that the Badr Brigade, for one, targeted hundreds of American troops in Iraq with Iranian-provided explosively formed projectile bombs, one of that war's deadliest weapons.
But US officials also acknowledged that the pro-Iranian militias benefited from US airstrikes in Amerli and Tikrit, something the militias themselves refused to acknowledge. Only "weak people like the Iraqi army" wanted US help, Haider al Amiri, the head of the Badr Brigade, said of the battle for Tikrit. He publicly celebrated Iranian support.
Either way, the fall of Amerli and Tikrit last year paved the way for the coalition and Iraqi forces to reclaim the city of Ramadi, the biggest prize to be taken back from ISIS so far. That, in turn, allowed the militias to increase their influence over Iraqi security matters.
The US has been notably silent on the role of its erstwhile Iraqi allies in the ongoing battle in Syria, though it no longer predicts that Russia will become bogged down in the conflict as the Russian airstrikes provide the cover needed for the Iranian-backed forces to advance.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Kurdish forces captured a military base in Aleppo, near the Turkish border.
Additional reporting by Michael Weiss
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