The Jerusalem Post presents a dismaying roundup of reactions from the Arab world to the performance of the U.S.-trained and equipped New Syrian Force, the tiny group of “moderate” rebels that hit the battlefield just a few weeks ago, and was swiftly picked apart by al-Qaeda, with nearly two dozen of its fighters and officers taken captive.
Kirk Sowell, principal of Uticensis Risk Services, a Middle East-focused political risk firm, who closely follows Arab media summed it up this way on Twitter: “Pentagon: Arab media are laughing at you.”
Sowell posted a broadcast by pro-opposition Orient News, which expressed astonishment as to why the US would send in a force of only 50 to 60 fighters to help destroy Islamic State.
Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a fellow at the Middle East Forum who closely follows Islamist opposition groups in Syria and Iraq, told The Jerusalem Post that “for many Sunni Arabs and Syrian Sunni Arab rebels in particular, this train-and-equip program has had no credibility from the outset.”
This is because the notion of fighting Islamic State while ignoring regime forces does not make sense for them, said Tamimi.
Middle East researcher Ali Bakir, who also writes for Arab publications, told the Post on Wednesday that “no one in the Arab world takes this program seriously; I mean you would need around 50 to 60 people to play paintball but definitely not to fight Islamic State.”
The New Syrian Force was supposed to be much larger, with Pentagon recruiting goals in the neighborhood of 5,000 fighters per year. Sending less than sixty men into the bloody chaos of Syria could only have value as a propaganda exercise, an effort to impress other Syrian rebel forces and spread the good word about America’s value as an ally. With some 20% of the force almost immediately taken hostage by al-Qaeda, that effort has backfired in a spectacular manner. It makes the Obama Administration look foolish, a dangerous ally that is not serious about accomplishing vital objectives, or supporting those who fight under its banner.
It also has the unfortunate effect of making the U.S. look treacherous. The Post mentions that many of the reactions to the misadventures of the New Syrian Force include bitterness over Barack Obama’s partnership with Iran, which supports the Assad regime. Sunni Muslims are very nervous about the developing alliance between the American President and the world’s leading sponsors of Shi’ite supremacy and terror.
“There is a profound general perception in the Arab world that the Obama administration is no less responsible than Iran and Russia in the Syrian crisis,” as Ali Bakir put it. He thought clear signals were being sent that the U.S. values its new relationship with Iran more than anything it might accomplish against either Assad or his even more horrible terrorist enemies in Syria. That will not inspire more agreeable Syrian groups to put their trust in the U.S. as an ally, in a land of double-crosses, massacres, WMD deployments, and three-sided battles.
Perhaps the most dismaying comments on the New Syrian Force come from a Syrian who has actually participated in the training program, known as Division 30. In an interview with the BBC, Captain Ammar al-Wawi criticized the U.S. for failing to protect its 54 fighters when they came under attack from the Nusra Front. In fact, he directly contradicted U.S. claims that defensive fire was provided for its proxy force, insisting that American military support only arrived after the battle was over.
“The project is very slow,” said Capt. Wawi. “They are ready to train and form a national army of 15,000 fighters and we hear they are ready to back it with money, weapons and provide air cover. But in reality, in six months only 60 fighters were trained. If it takes this long to train 60, it will take decades to get everyone ready.”
Update: On Thursday evening, CNN reported that the New Syrian Force had been completely destroyed. It’s not yet clear if this will mean the end of the Division 30 program, or if more fighters currently in training will still be deployed.
CNN JUST IN: Remaining U.S. trained rebels in Syria are unaccounted for. May have fled, or been killed; whereabouts unknown.
— Vaughn Sterling (@vplus) August 6, 2015