The Obama Administration may quietly be dropping its commitment to the failed, U.S.-run fighter scheme in Syria, which was the cause of much derision recently when 23 of the only 60 men the program trained were captured. The Daily Beast reports:
The Obama administration is still publicly counting on a $500 million rebel army to beat ISIS in Syria. But privately, the Pentagon brass long ago moved past its own proxy force, The Daily Beast has learned. They’ve found another group to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State instead.
In the eyes of the administration, a better force had emerged—already trained, competent, organized—that posed little risk of abandoning the fight or worse yet, switching sides. They are the Syrian Kurdish militia—the Popular Protection Units or YPG, by their Kurdish initials. And they have successfully wrestled Syrian territory out of ISIS’s hands.
Seeing officials finally move to distance themselves from the training program, even if only in an off-the-record manner, is heartening. The first step to solving a problem, as the saying goes, is to admit you have one, and America’s policy with regard to Syrian forces has had a serious problem lately. As a “senior defense advisor” told The Daily Beast, “I don’t understand why we are still training, other than to inoculate criticism. … [The administration] cannot admit it is a complete disaster.”
But a pivot to the YPG would be far more complicated than it is presented here as being, largely because of our new alliance with the Turks. They have no intention (to put it mildly) of allowing the anti-ISIS fight to create a new Kurdish power in the region. In fact, as Dov Friedman has argued in our pages, Ankara seems to see the campaign against ISIS as an opportunity to crush Kurdish regional aspirations. So the Administration’s trial balloon in this case proposes something completely at odds with its recent move to cooperate with Turkey in Syria.
Among the groups that can field real fighters in Syria, Kurdish forces are in many ways the most aligned with America’s interests. It’s good that they’re on the Administration’s radar—and that we’ve (potentially) moved past the farce of the “New Syrian Force.” But this still isn’t a coherent strategy.