Sunday, September 21, 2014

Grand Illusion in Syria (vetting the resistance)

It is time that strategic decision makers understand the nature of unconventional warfare.  Vetting is not a one time event.  You do not turn the stop light power point chart from red to yellow to green. vetting is an ongoing process.  Training and equipping forces outside of Syria for the next year and then reinserting them to fight ISIL/IS sounds like a nice plan but we are only training tactical forces and as everyone knows some if not many will end up going to the other side or to other resistance organizations.  The key question that decision makers need to ask is what are we doing to advise, assist, and influence the underground and the real resistance leadership.  Sure we might train battalion commanders in Jordan, or Qatar or Kuwait or wherever but we need to get to the real resistance leadership.  And it is only if we get to that leadership and the underground we will be able to continue to monitor those already vetted as well as vet new personnel.

The real question for Congress should be are we going to authorize and approve a train and equip program or are we going to have a strategy and campaign plan of which real unconventional warfare is going to be a major component.  Programs do not accomplish strategic objectives in war or conflict or whatever we are going to call Syria.  Only strategy and campaign plans can.  Programs (and from what I have read about this one in the media) are tactically focused and not strategic or operational.  

Of course a complete and thorough assessment from an unconventional warfare perspective may reveal that there are serious and perhaps insurmountable problems at least in the near term.  So I suppose it is easier to just execute a program and hope something good comes of it.  Yes I said hope.

Those allies are the “moderate” and “vetted” — euphemisms for “not as scary as the other guys” — rebels in Syria, whom Congress voted last week to finance and train and arm. As fighting forces go, they promise to be rather less impressive than the last army we trained, since if all goes well just 5,000 rebels will be ready for the fight this year, or about one-sixth as many fighters as ISIS now has under arms. (And those odds get even longer when you consider that the rebels intend to use our weapons to fight the Assad regime as well.)Perhaps, just perhaps, there might be a lesson here about how hard it is to conjure up reliable allies amid the chaos of the current Middle East. But if so, we seem determined not to learn it, since our official strategy for fighting the Islamic State involves basically trying the same thing again, this time on the cheap: inventing allies, funneling them money and weaponry, and telling ourselves that it will all work out.



ACROSS years of war and at an extraordinary cost, the United States built an army that was supposed to prevent jihadists from gaining a sanctuary in the heart of the Middle East. It had American-trained leaders, American-made weaponry and 250,000 men under arms — far more troops and firepower than any insurgent force that might emerge to challenge it. 
That army was the Iraqi Army, and we know what happened next: The Syrian civil war spilled over into Iraq, jihadists first found a foothold and then led an insurgency against the Iraqi military, and the jihadists won. American-organized units were routed; American-trained soldiers fled; American-made weapons fell into the hands of the Islamic State, the self-declared caliphate with which we ourselves are now at war.

Those allies are the “moderate” and “vetted” — euphemisms for “not as scary as the other guys” — rebels in Syria, whom Congress voted last week to finance and train and arm. As fighting forces go, they promise to be rather less impressive than the last army we trained, since if all goes well just 5,000 rebels will be ready for the fight this year, or about one-sixth as many fighters as ISIS now has under arms. (And those odds get even longer when you consider that the rebels intend to use our weapons to
 fight the Assad regime as well.)Perhaps, just perhaps, there might be a lesson here about how hard it is to conjure up reliable allies amid the chaos of the current Middle East. But if so, we seem determined not to learn it, since our official strategy for fighting the Islamic State involves basically trying the same thing again, this time on the cheap: inventing allies, funneling them money and weaponry, and telling ourselves that it will all work out.
If our failure to build an army capable of stabilizing Iraq after our departure looks like a pure tragedy, then the arm-the-rebels gambit in Syria has more than a whiff of farce. But really it’s a studied evasion, a way for this administration to pretend that we don’t face a set of deeply unpleasant options in our quest to contain or crush the caliphate.
The first realistic, non-farcical option is the one that the president seemed to choose initially, when he launched limited airstrikes to rescue the embattled Kurds last month. This would basically be a strategy of containment and attrition, oriented around the current lines of battle in Iraq, in which we see if the Kurds and those Iraqi Army units that didn’t collapse can push the front westward, see if a post-Maliki government can woo local Sunni leaders, and use our air power to degrade the caliphate’s fighting capacity while letting its internal weaknesses degrade it from within.
The trouble with containment is that it would leave the Islamic State in control of a great deal of territory (with more beheading videos, no doubt) for months and years to come. Hence the administration’s pivot to Syria; hence the strategic dream palace that is our arm-the-rebels strategy.
(Continued at the link below)

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