Surprise Syrian showdown: 'Pentagon-backed rebels fighting CIA-backed rebels'

© Khalil Ashawi
American soldiers never used to shoot at our CIA agents, and vice-versa, but that’s what’s reportedly happening in the northern part of Syria, former CIA officer Ray McGovern told RT from Washington, DC.

In February, the CIA-armed group ‘Fursan al Haq’, or Knights of Righteousness, were apparently forced out of their positions by the so-called ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’, backed by the Pentagon.

The report - put out by a US Veterans group - comes as President Obama this month authorized a new Pentagon plan to train and arm Syrian anti-government fighters.

RT: How much control do the US military and intelligence have over the groups they are funding on the ground?

Ray McGovern: Well, let’s start with the good news. The good news is that because of Russian intervention and President Obama’s sensible reaction to it, namely, no longer pressing for priority for removing Assad and also allowing Iranians to participate in negotiations, the ceasefire - or what we call the ‘cessation of hostilities’ - is holding. Now, the embarrassing part of all is that when President Putin and President Obama told their respective foreign ministers to de-conflict things, make sure their planes don’t run into each other, that has moved forward to the point with this active military cooperation in Syria.

Now, unfortunately the same is not true of the various factions within the US government: the CIA, on the one hand, and the Department of Defense, on the other. They don’t seem able to de-conflict their strategies. And the bottom line here of course is there’s no one in control. Susan Rice, National Security Adviser, she is going to tell the Special Operation folks and the Air Force and the CIA what to do? It is almost laughable, if it weren’t so serious… We have different objectives. First of all, the moderate rebels were going to remove Assad and then they got instructions: 'No, no, don’t remove Assad. We are going to go after ISIS.' No one knows what to think. And besides that the Pentagon has been thoroughly embarrassed by investing half a billion dollars into fielding four or five people still in the fight. So, the solution is to work with the Russians, to make sure that they de-conflict not only Russian and US objectives and actions, but that the Russians might even help us to de-conflict the obvious shooting that is going on between CIA-supported rebels and Department of Defense-supported rebels. It is really quite an embarrassment…

RT: Could this be part of the rivalry within the enormous US war machine with both departments, the CIA and Pentagon, wanting to defeat each other?

RG: Yes, it could. These things happen. If there is no strong leadership from the top, and I mean the White House here, that’s why I referred to Susan Rice, the National Security Adviser. If she is having the same problems with the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter as her predecessor Condoleezza Rice had with Donald Rumsfeld then the National Security Adviser is not doing her job. And the President is aloof. And so you get the Department of Defense and the CIA both running their little operations and, quite frankly, I doubt whether the CIA is telling the Pentagon all the things that it is doing in Syria. It is a secret, after all.

RT: How do both the CIA and the Pentagon choose the groups to support?

RG: It has been sort of a helter-skelter choosing process, reminiscent of the people we chose to go into Iraq and set up a government more amenable to our influence. The moderate rebels that we are allegedly supporting – you know it is really bizarre because the President of the US two years ago said: 'There are no moderate rebels. This is a fantasy'. Well, if it is a fantasy and there are no moderate rebels, whom are we supporting there with millions and millions of dollars? These things have a momentum of their own. And once you have a covert action program with 500 million dollars like the Defense had, you’ve got all this money and people say: 'Let’s find some moderate rebels because we have all this money.'

So it is really a totally inept performance with no central control on the part of the White House, and so you would expect this kind of now it has reached ludicrous proportions. Our soldiers never used to shoot at our CIA agents, and vice-versa, and that’s what’s going on apparently in the northern part of Syria.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.