‘US aid ends up with extremists’: Analysts alarmed over Pentagon’s 60,000-strong Syrian rebel force

Analysts have warned that US-supported groups in Syria often defect to extremists with their weapons. That's after it was revealed the Pentagon plans to spend around $300 million to train and equip a 60,000-strong army in Syria.

Commenting on the Pentagon’s plans to build, train and equip a massive ‘Vetted Syrian Opposition’ to fight Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in Syria, a number of US-based experts told RT the move has nothing to do with combatting terrorism. Instead, US weapons and aid could easily land in the hands of Islamist extremists, as has often been seen in the past.

READ MORE: ‘Operational pause’: Turkish offensive in Syria’s Afrin forces US to halt anti-ISIS battle

“In the past, some of the groups who were the recipient of US aid ended up either taking over or [being] defeated by some of the radical forces on the ground in Syria. Or some of them ended up joining the extremists and taking some of the weapons with them,” Edmund Ghareeb, a scholar at the American University in Washington, DC, told RT.

Another expert said an armed formation will help Washington tighten its grip over rebel-controlled parts of Syria, while stressing that the US’ “hostile military presence in Syria” has no legal basis. “They want to create… conditions in Syria where the country is still divided. The record of the US and the CIA’s operations in Syria is that the people they have supported all along have been extremists,” said Nicolas J.S. Davies, the author of ‘Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.’

He argued that the State Department and Pentagon “clearly want to push ahead with a plan to basically keep forces under their control in command of all Syrian territory east of the Euphrates river.”

While the US justifies its presence in Syria with claims it is fighting terrorists, the only area IS “has survived is the area that is under American and its allies' control,” Daoud Khairallah, a professor of international law at Georgetown University, believes.“One would wonder whether they are getting assistance from Americans for their survivability, ” Khairallah told RT.

Pentagon pays monthly allowance to rebels, seeks to establish large force in Syria

Following the virtual defeat of IS terrorists in Syria, the US appears to be trying to restructure its military presence in the war-torn country. In February, a fiscal year 2019 budget document mulled creating a new army out of elements of the so-called Vetted Syrian Opposition (VSO). The forces are “projected to total approximately 60,000 to 65,000” by October 2018, according to a report titled 'Justification for FY 2019 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)'.

The document explains that some 30,000 fighters will conduct “ongoing combat missions” against remaining pockets of IS in the Middle Euphrates River Valley (MERV), while another 35,000-strong contingent will form Internal Security Forces in liberated areas.

Creating the massive new military structure of rather questionable legality, roughly equivalent to the size of the Canadian armed forces, is an expensive endeavor. Besides seeking $250 million for border security requirements for areas outside of Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon is seeking some $300 million from US lawmakers to implement the creation of the new opposition bulwark machine that will be funded through the Syrian Train and Equip Program. Launched under the Obama administration in 2014, the program identified and trained selected Syrian opposition forces to fight IS.

The Pentagon plans to spend the bulk of the new funds on arming the forces. Nearly $50 million is allocated for buying AK-47s, PKM machine guns, as well as RPG-7 anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Mortar launchers and sniper rifles are also on the menu next to hand grenades, different types of vehicles and tons of ammunition.

Washington plans to pay a monthly allowance to its force, in addition to providing the new force with uniforms, hygiene kits and medical equipment. “[The Department of Defense] will transition to a stabilization effort that will focus on support to local Internal Security Forces, who will receive stipends for their efforts to secure liberated territory and prevent the re-emergence of ISIS or its affiliates,” the document reads. “Currently, 10,000 established partner force personnel are being paid stipends. The individual stipend payments range from $200 to $400 per month.”

While Washington maintains that its goal is to defeat IS, Moscow has repeatedly questioned US intentions, especially as the American presence in Syria is viewed as a violation of sovereignty.

The Russian military last month asserted that the true US goal is to capture “economic assets” in Syria, warning that America’s presence constitutes a dangerous threat to the political process and territorial integrity of the country. 

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