Monday, July 04, 2016

It's Like We Aren't Even Trying to Win in Syria

On the heels of this embarrassing defeat in eastern Syria by "our" local forces, we have another defeat in northwest Syria to chew on.

Well that's great:

Syria's al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front has abducted the commander of the Western-backed Jaish al-Tahrir brigade, along with several of his aides and scores of fighters in coordinated raids in northern Syria, Jaish al Tahrir said on Sunday.

Jaish al Tahrir was set up in February as part of an effort to forge unity among moderate rebels in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) alliance at a time when a major Islamic State advance threatened their main stronghold near the Turkish border.

And this defeat of the FSA follows another embarrassment by the NSA in the east:

In another blow to the U.S. effort to train and equip "moderate" Syrian rebels, the surprise attack by ISIS inflicted a defeat on New Syrian Army effort to take the town of al-Boukamal, just across the border from the Iraqi town of al-Qaim. The New Syrian Army forces retreated and reportedly were regrouping in the desert.

Muzahem al Saloum, a spokesman for the New Syrian Army, told Reuters, "We have withdrawn to the outlying desert and the first stage of the campaign has ended."

"The news is not good," another rebel source told Reuters. "I can say our troops were trapped and suffered many casualties and several fighters were captured and even weapons were taken."

If successful, this would have helped isolate the Iraqi and Syrian branches of the Islamic State from supporting each other. Which is important as we prepare to move on Mosul, Iraq.

These failures, I believe, stem from our foolish position that, as this AP writer states, the defeat of ISIL in Syria takes precedence over the defeat of Assad:

All other known attempts to train rebel groups have largely failed, in part because of Washington’s focus on the fight against IS rather than toppling the Syrian government, and its failure to protect its partners from better-equipped rivals.

I'm not the only one to note this, but I have mentioned this error more than once in the past.

Fighting and dying to fight ISIL for America just isn't the motivation we need to keep Syrian men fighting when the going gets rough. Syrians outraged by Assad's minority regime, who took up arms to defeat him, just don't have their heart in a fight to defeat ISIL--which, despite its evil nature, is at least trying to defeat Assad and has had the most success in that objective.

And it is worse because we want the rebels we support to fight and die not to eventually defeat Assad after the ISIL side trip, but to pressure Assad into negotiations to end the war short of Assad's total defeat!

Which is why I've always wanted to focus on defeating ISIL in Iraq while also working for the overthrow of Assad in Syria despite the strong position of ISIL in Syria.

If we defeat Assad first--which inspires the majority of Syrians the way fighting ISIL does not--we can persuade people in and out of Syria to fight ISIL in the next stage of the war.

If we defeat ISIL first, our European allies will be eager to end the war to stop migrants from flowing to Europe even if the price is Assad's survival and eventual victory.

We should just combine the FSA and NSA into the NFSA (Non-Fighting Syrian Army) and at least save on administrative costs. I mean, if we aren't trying to shape the outcome of the Syrian Civil War to get some type of victory, no matter how imperfect, we might as well save a bit of cash while we ultimately lose.

UPDATE: Strategypage discusses Syria.