The United States has reportedly declared that it will not protect CIA-trained and armed Syrian rebels who have recently come under attack by Russian forces.
U.S. officials argue that an intervention on behalf of the trainees would be tantamount to declaring a proxy war against Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “has calculated, with good reason, that the U.S. will do little to nothing to defend” American-backed Syrian rebels, described as American proxies by The Daily Beast, from Russian bombs.
U.S. officials promised to come to the rescue of their Syrian allies while recruiting rebels to fight the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), telling them they could count on American help.
American Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told reporters and lawmakers that the United States has an obligation to protect the Syrian rebels it trains.
The Daily Beast learned from unnamed U.S. defense officials and top lawmakers on Thursday that “The military isn’t willing to intervene on behalf of the rebels, given the potentially disastrous consequences of an escalation with Russian forces.”
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook, also on Thursday, refused to say whether or not the U.S. would respond to Russian aggression against American-backed Syrian rebels.
Throughout the Pentagon press briefing, Cook dismissed Russia attacking Syrian rebels considered allies of the United States as a “hypothetical” scenario, despite a number of journalists contradicting him, arguing that Moscow was indeed targeting U.S-backed rebels.
U.S. officials, including John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that Russian forces had attacked Syrian rebels who were part of a CIA-vetted group of hundreds of fighters, contradicting Cook.
That group is different from the handful of Syrian rebels who have been trained and deployed to the battlefield by the Pentagon.
Cook did note that it was the Pentagon’s belief that Russia was striking areas where there are no ISIS jihadists.
“We don’t believe that [Russia] struck [ISIS] targets. So that is a problem,” added Army Col. Steven Warren, spokesman for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, when speaking to reporters on Thursday.
Anonymous U.S. officials told The Daily Beast Thursday that America’s hands are tied when it comes to protecting its Syrian allies who are currently being targeted by Russian airstrikes.
The U.S. wants to avoid a catastrophic showdown between superpowers.
“We are not going to shoot Russian airplanes. We are not going to hit their airfields [in Syria]. And we are not going to equip [rebels] with MANPADs,” a U.S. defense official told The Daily Beast.
MANPAD is the acronym for shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles. In the past, U.S.-backed programs to hand out MANPADs have failed with disastrous consequences.
Notes The Daily Beast:
The rebels attacked by Russian forces on Wednesday and Thursday were in western Syria, alongside al Qaeda affiliates and far from any ISIS positions. That suggests the rebels were not there to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State, as the Obama administration called the top priority. Instead, they were battling the Assad regime as part of a still-active CIA program for rebels which has run in tandem with the disastrous and now-defunct train and equip Pentagon program.
There are two separate U.S.-backed programs to arm and train Syrian rebels. One is carried out by the CIA, while the other is handled by the Pentagon.
“As strange as it sounds, the U.S. actually has two separate proxies in Syria,” points out The Daily Beast, referring to the two training programs.
“The two don’t necessarily work at cross-purposes; in fact, they’re meant to complement each other,” it adds.
The Obama administration has repeatedly stressed that its main rival in Syria is ISIS. However, since the Syrian civil war started in 2011, the president’s team has urged a political transition away from Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad who the administration considers to be largely responsible for the conflict.
Meanwhile, Russia considers Assad an ally, and this week Moscow began launching airstrikes against Assad’s enemies in Syria, including U.S.-trained and equipped Syrian rebels.