The United States will send 400 troops to train ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels this spring as part of its campaign against IS militants in the region.
Pentagon spokesman Maj James Brindle confirmed the proposed deployment, according to An Nahar in Lebanon.
But it raises concerns over the identity of these so-called ‘moderates’, with Obama’s opponents highlighting the US anti-tank weapons which were used in December by Al Nusra militants to take over Syrian military bases Wadi Deif and Hamidiyeh in the Idlib province.
Evidence of US weapons were spotted when a video posted by Al Nusra – al Qaeda’s faction in Syria, showed the powerful arms being used. News, therefore, that elite troops will be sent to the region in this increasingly complex battle is alarming critics who say that his policies are essentially arming and funding Al Qaeda groups in the region.
Laws passed last month provided $5 billion to train Iraqis battling militants who rule large sections of Syria and Iraq. It also authorised the training and equipping of ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels who have been battling the extremists for two years.
But there are no safeguards against those weapons falling into the wrong hands and the US essentially arming and training the very people they are supposed to be fighting.
The lines between these ‘moderate’ groups and those who align themselves with extremists such as Al Qaeda are blurred to the extent where crossover is simple to do but difficult to detect.
While previous accounts of weapons falling into the wrong hands have proved false, such as the sniper rifles used by Navy Seals which were supposed to be used by IS terrorists in fact being ‘Chinese knock-offs’, more recent reports are more worrying.
The US provided TOW anti-tank missiles to CIA vetted Syrian rebel faction Harakat Hazm in May of last year despite the group being united with Jabat al Nusra and jointly fighting the Syrian Army in Handarat.
Recent moves by Nusra to sign a deal with IS failed, but had it been successful then Nusra would have effectively been an ally of the very people being bombed daily by US and Arab coalition leading to the very real possibility that US weapons could be used against US troops.
The video clip showing the TOW missile being used in the attack on the Syrian army base by a Nusra fighter shows a clear proficiency in its use demonstrating that he must be either a recipient of US training in handling the weapons, either directly or indirectly.
The matter is also of consequence in the UK since the operation against the Islamic militants is supported by the government and UK military assets have been deployed in the operation.
UK based defence analyst and blogger Elliot Higgins says he believes the TOWs were the ones indeed supplied by the US, rather than captured from Lebanon earlier this year.
“It’s notable that the markings on the rear of the missile tube indicate it’s the 71E-1B model, the same type as provided to vetted opposition groups, and the three stripes on the legs of the launcher are black, not yellow as seen in the photographs of the TOW ATGMs captured by Jabhat al-Nusra from Lebanon” he said.
No doubt the Ministry of Defence as well as 10 Downing Street will want to know if the weapons given to these so-called moderates are simply being given to Nusra or whether Nusra took these weapons from Harakat al Hazm. In either situation, there needs to be an investigation into whether Harakat are a suitable recipient for powerful weapons in a conflict where the opaque lines between enemies can blur in the confusion of civil conflict and religious tensions.