‘Complete disaster:’ US training of Syrian rebels falters as Kurds prove combat superiority – report

© Hosam Katan
The US plan to train Syrian rebels to combat the Islamic State is reportedly in tatters. Though America has not given up on the plan publicly, the military is now allegedly looking to Syrian Kurdish militias for help against the extremists.

According to a report by the Daily Beast, the failure of the US to find enough rebel candidates to create a sufficient and competent New Syrian Force has the military leadership considering other options, at least internally. Congress has already allocated $500 million for building a “moderate Syrian opposition,” but the US has only been able to train 54 individuals in total so far.

That’s a far cry from the 15,000-strong force officials envisioned when starting out. Complications included finding rebels that had enough combat experience and who would not divert their focus to fighting embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom they want to see toppled and have been struggling against for years in an ongoing civil war.

Citing unnamed defense and administration officials, the Daily Beast reported that the military hadn’t been prepared for how hard it would be to get the New Syrian Force off the ground. One official said the Pentagon “has had to temper expectations.”

Another official was much harsher, calling the training program “a complete disaster.”

“I don’t understand why we are still training, other than to inoculate criticism… [The administration] cannot admit it is a complete disaster,” the official told the outlet, adding that “no receptivity to new ideas” had arisen even after communication with the 54 US-trained rebels was cut off by militant attacks.

Consequently, the US reportedly now considers that the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG, which numbers up to 50,000 troops, may be the country’s best bet against the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS/ISIL). So far, YPG has successfully fended off IS attacks on the Kurdish town of Kobani, which many saw as an essential territory when it came under attack last year.

Including Kobani, the YPG has been able to take at least 11 villages back from IS control. One unnamed US official told the Daily Beast that “the YPG is the most effective fighting force in Syria.”

While the Defense Department has not officially declared the rebel training program a failure, there have been hints of a strategic change. In July, Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress that the US is attempting to build “a network of partners” that includes the YPG.

However, this could cause other fault lines to emerge, as US ally and NATO member Turkey has long been wary of strengthening the Kurds. The desire for Kurds in several countries, including Turkey and Iraq, to form their own independent state has caused friction with Arab governments.

As RT noted in July, along with displaying willingness to attack IS positions recently, Turkey has been mounting fresh strikes against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well. The PKK has called for Kurdish autonomy, and is listed as a terror organization by Turkey.