US-trained Iraqi Army Faces Collapse as US Arms Rebels in Syria, Asks Russia Not to Bomb Al Qaeda
June 5, 2016 Jason Ditz /AntiWar.com & Al Jazeera
In 2014, US-trained Iraqi troops threw down their weapons and fled in the face of ISIS attacks. Now, 17 months into the effort to retrains Iraq's military, US officials are increasingly admitting the effort is another failure. On June 3, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov revealed that the US had asked Russia forces to stop bombing Al Qeada's Al Nusra Front fighters inside Syria. On the same day, the US -- for the first time -- began dropping weapons to rebel fighters inside Syria.
US Officials Admit Effort to 'Retrain' Iraqi Army a Failure Jason Ditz /AntiWar.com
(June 3, 2016) -- After the US-trained and armed Iraqi military collapsed in the face of ISIS offensives in 2014, the US embarked on a broad effort to retrain and reorganize the military. 17 months into this effort, US officials are increasingly admitting the effort is another failure.
Retired Lt. Gen. Mick Bednarek, who commanded the US training mission until last year, said the Iraqi Army has not improved much, saying the big problem is a lack of recruitment and retention in the Iraqi forces, saying the US officers are ready to train who shows up, but are never sure who that's going to be.
Other US officials complained that the Iraqi military's commanders are too cozy with the Shi'ite militias they so heavily depend on in the war, and that many of the US arms being transferred to the Iraqi military "either because of corrupt commanders or outright robbery," end up in the hands of the militias.
Iraqi Defense Ministry officials defended this, saying the militias are an "official body" connected to the armed forces, though indeed the fact that the Iraqis are still so heavily dependent on the militias for serious combat underscores just how weak the proper military remains.
The militias have been heavily criticized by human rights groups, with many cases of "liberated" Sunni towns being left under the control of Shi'ite militias who engage in looting and violent retaliation against suspected "ISIS supporters."
(June 3, 2016) -- Russian officials had previously said their halt on airstrikes against al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate, the Nusra Front, was a result of requests from rebels. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today revealed that the US had actually been the ones to request the halt.
"They are telling us not to hit Nusra, because there is 'normal opposition next to it," Lavrov insisted saying Russia wants the rest of the opposition to leave the positions alongside Nusra. Russia has been trying to convince the US to agree to a joint operation against Nusra, but unsuccessfully.
The State Department did not appear to contest Lavrov's account, saying they don't have a problem in theory with airstrikes against Nusra, but that "a more complete effort needs to be made in order to distinguish between al-Nusra and the parties to the cessation."
This has been an ongoing problem throughout the ceasefire. Nusra, which is not a party to the truce, used it to expand its territory, and some of its rebel allies, who are in the ceasefire, have gone along for the ride, only to express outrage every time Syria launches counterattacks.
(June 3, 2016) -- In a move that is being described as the first US airdrop in Syria for a force other than the Kurdish YPG, US forces have dropped shipments of weapons and ammunition into Marea, a town contested between a collection of rebel factions and ISIS.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had reported that the air drop included anti-tank weapons as well as ammunition, though the Pentagon denied the claims of any anti-tank weapons being involved. ISIS has been pushing into this area for weeks now, driving the rebels into a shrinking area around Azaz.
Azaz, and nearby Marea, have been a much sought after target throughout the Syrian Civil War, as the area is near a major Turkish border crossing. Turkey has closed the border recently, however, which has meant supporters of this Sunni Arab rebel coalition is increasingly trapped in a small territory along the Syrian side of the border.
Though the Pentagon hasn't previously airdropped weapons to any rebel factions other than the Kurds, the CIA has been arming most of these same rebel factions for years. The expansion of this to include an airdrop, however, reflects how bad things are going in the area, with ISIS on the brink of taking Marea, and pushing on to Azaz. US Drops Weapons to Rebels Battling ISIL in Syria US sends arms to rebel units in Aleppo province while UN considers dropping food and medicine to besieged areas by air Al Jazeera
(June 6, 2016) -- The US has reportedly dropped weapons to rebel fighters in Syria as the UN Security Council considers dropping food and medicine by air to civilians. Witnesses say the US delivered the weapons to armed units battling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group in Syria.
The developments come as a former Russian diplomat tells Al Jazeera that his country is seriously considering putting boots on the ground in Syria.
The weapons supplies were airdropped to rebels in Marea, a town in the northern province of Aleppo, on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.
"Coalition airplanes dropped . . . ammunitions, light weapons and anti-tank weapons to rebels in Marea," Rami Abdel Rahman, the SOHR head, said. He said it was the first time the coalition had made such a drop to rebel fighters other than the Kurds. A US defence official confirmed to the AFP news agency that the airdrop took place but denied that they included light weapons or anti-tank weapons.
In recent days, fighting has intensified near Marea, with the UN sounding a warning over the fate of an estimated 8,000 Syrians trapped by the violence. About 2,000 people had managed to leave Marea and Sheikh Issa before the closure of a main road between Marea and Azaz, two main rebel bastions in the province.
The airdrops come as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) -- a US-backed coalition of armed groups led by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) -- mobilises in Aleppo around the border town of Manbij, a suspected supply route for ISIL.
A woman carries a child injured in a triple blast a suburb of the Syrian capital.
The US sees the SDF -- which was founded in Syria's mainly Kurdish northeastern region in October 2015, and is made up of at least 15 armed factions, mostly fighters from the YPG and the Free Syrian Army -- as the most effective group challenging ISIL in Syria. Meanwhile, there is speculation that Russia might deploy ground forces in Syria.
"This is under discussion; there are plans for this," Andrei Fyodorov, a former Russian deputy minister for foreign affairs, told Al Jazeera. The reinforcements could be special forces or volunteer soldiers who are willing to fight alongside the Syrian army and its allies. In a separate development, Syria has given the UN and the Red Cross approval to send humanitarian aid convoys into at least 11 of 19 besieged areas.
In a statement on Thursday, the Syrian Mission to the UN named the besieged areas of Kafr Batna, Saqba, Hammura, Jisrein, Zabadin, East Harasta, Zamalka, Madaya, Fouaa, Kefraya and Yarmouk on its approved list, along with some 25 other areas.
It also named two other besieged areas -- Daraya and Douma -- on a list of eight places approved to receive medical assistance, school supplies and milk for children. Daraya has not received food since 2012 and was not on the Syrian list of approved destinations for humanitarian relief convoys.
However, there are serious concerns about how plausible the Syrian plan is. On Friday the Security Council is due to hold an emergency meeting to discuss airdrops to besieged areas as the UN faces more delays in getting aid to civilians.
The International Syria Support group, which includes Russia and the US, has said airdrops should start if land access is denied.
Across Syria, an estimated 1.9 million people live in besieged areas, according to the aid group Doctors Without Borders. Syria's conflict started with mostly unarmed demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011. It has since evolved into a full-on civil war that has killed at least 270,000 people, according to the SOHR.
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