As US ex­pands train­ing of rebels, Syria braces for pro­longed war on Is­lamic State as As­sad watches on

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS - Bash­dar Pusho Is­maeel

Less than a year ago, US Pres­i­dent Bar­rack Obama deemed groups such as the Is­lamic State (IS) as mi­nor play­ers. Yet a new coali­tion and sev­eral hun­dred air-strikes later, IS is very much the fo­cus of the war in Syria with Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad hardly the first name on the lips of Wash­ing­ton.

The CIA al­ready has a pro­gram of train­ing so-called mod­er­ate Syr­ian rebels in Jor­dan but with as many as 1000 troop, support and train­ing per­son­nel, the US has launched a new ini­tia­tive to train thou­sands of rebels in Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Ara­bia start­ing in early spring.

"The goal for the train and equip pro­gram is to build the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the mod­er­ate Syr­ian fight­ers to de­fend the Syr­ian peo­ple; sta­bi­lize ar­eas un­der op­po­si­tion con­trol; pro­mote the con­di­tions for a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment of the con­flict in Syria; and em­power trainees to go on the of­fen­sive against ISIL," stated Cmdr. Elissa Smith, a Pen­tagon spokes­woman. Omi­nously, As­sad was not men­tioned in the state­ment.

Ini­tial plans in­volve train­ing some 5400 fight­ers in a 12 month pe­riod start­ing from early spring. With US of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edg­ing that at least 18,000 fight­ers will be needed, this is an ac­cep­tance that the bat­tle against IS is one for the long-haul.

But so frac­tured is the Syr­ian land­scape that pick­ing out the mod­er­ates and vet­ting in­di­vid­u­als is a painstak­ing task.

This also begs the ques­tion of the long-term strat­egy in Syria. Even if IS is de­feated after many years, what then for the head of the Syr­ian snake, the As­sad regime? More im­por­tantly, how about the fate of the mil­lions of refugees and civil­ians who have al­ready en­dured years of hard­ship and suf­fer­ing?

This week, US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry gave ten­ta­tive support for a fast fal­ter­ing Rus­sian peace ini­tia­tive be­tween Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fig­ures and the regime set for this month. Key Syr­ian op­po­si­tion fig­ures have al­ready pulled out amidst great skep­ti­cism that th­ese talks can achieve any­thing mean­ing­ful, the fact it is hosted by one of As­sad’s chief back­ers hardly in­spires con­fi­dence.

What was telling is the lack of di­rect US in­volve­ment in such a pro­posal. Wash­ing­ton sees prospects of any real break­through as very slim and in any case it high­lights its lack of fo­cus on the re­moval of As­sad.

Syria has be­come a sorry state of af­fairs and US pol- icies of­ten seem like knee­jerk re­ac­tions. Its lack of ap­petite to in­ter­vene as red-lines were crossed has meant that when it even­tu­ally had to in­ter­vene it was at a greater price.

As US pro­poses to train Syr­ian rebels, it’s un­clear how this will be ex­tended to the Syr­ian Kurds who have borne the brunt of the strug­gle against IS in re­cent months. Of course, Turkey will ve­he­mently op­pose any mea­sure to train the Kurds, its re­luc­tance in light of the US support of Kobane was clear to see, but US strat­egy must in­clude the Kurds who are cen­tral to the de­feat of IS.

US and

coali­tion

jets have al­ready launched hun­dreds of air-strikes on IS po­si­tions in Kobane. Yet a fierce IS on­slaught in re­cent days that was re­pelled by Kur­dish forces shows how ten­ta­tive gains can be.

Kurds con­trol 85% of Kobane after US and Pesh­merga support and much sacrifice with IS prov­ing a thorn that will not go away all too eas­ily.

Most wor­ry­ingly for the Kurds and oth­ers Syr­i­ans fight­ers, is that all th­ese fight­ing and sacrifice against IS, leaves As­sad firmly in power and over­shad­ows the num­ber one goal of the civil war.

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