US begins training ‘moderate rebels’ on Syrian territory – report
The report from Lebanon’s satellite television channel, Al Mayadeen, cites a military source stating that American military advisors have already arrived in Syria and are training “moderate rebels” near the city of Salma, located in the western province of Latakia.
“American officers began the training of Turkmen militants around Salma in Latakia province,” the channel cited the source as saying.
Latakia is where Russia has set up its air base for its ongoing anti-terror operation in Syria. Despite Washington’s assertions that the rebel training is now aimed at pushing back Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Syrian military sources cited by RIA Novosti say that no IS forces currently hold positions in northern Latakia. Instead, the Syrian Turkmen militants are fighting alongside the al-Nusra Front extremists against the Syrian Army.
On Friday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest announced that the US would be sending around 50 US advisers to Syria to train so-called ‘moderate rebels.’ Earnest defined the mission as to “train, advise, and assist.”
The new shift in policy is in direct contradiction to what US President Barack Obama promised in 2013 – “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria,” he said during a televised national address on September 10, 2013.
Obama’s decision is widely viewed as an escalation in the US military’s involvement in the country, Finian Cunningham wrote for RT. “The troop dispatch also signals that the US is trying to forestall Russian successes in wiping out Washington’s regime-change assets in Syria,” Cunningham added.
The move has also been described as calculated. If, or when, an American soldier gets hurt, the US will have a pretext for putting even more boots on the ground, retired US Air Force Lieutenant Col Karen Kwiatkowski told RT.
“There is a danger of that happening and I think that is part of why they are going there. I think they are looking for an excuse to up the ante, to send more troops and to have a crisis of some sort. Clearly the president has been lying, and so has Ash Carter, about what their real intentions are. So, in my opinion, I think this is provocative and I think it is calculated to put our troops in danger,” Kwiatkowski said.
Moreover, the consequences of any potential US ground operations in Syria would be unpredictable, the head of Russia’s parliamentary committee on foreign affairs said.
“Any operations – air based operations, ground based operations – in Syria by American forces will be illegal,” Kosachev told RT. “They will get trapped, they will get involved in this ongoing conflict and the consequences will be absolutely unpredictable.”
The announcement of American advisors being deployed to train ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria also brings up all the issues concerning the previous failures of the US train and equip program that had been run out of Turkey. The US eventually gave up on the training part of the project, as senior US officials admitted that, despite the program’s $500 million budget, the US had only trained a handful of fighters.
The worst aspect of that failure was that a stockpile of weapons given to the US-trained rebels ended up in the hands of terrorists, after the so-called ‘moderates’ willingly handed it over soon after crossing into Syria.
Back in September, top US General Lloyd Austin told Congress that only four or five US-trained Syrian rebels were still fighting in the war-torn nation, stressing that the training was behind schedule and the military’s goals for the program would not be met on time.