In the last year or so, we’ve seen our military might decimated by budget cuts, pink slips sent to troops while they’re on the battlefield and scores of generals fired, while military leadership deals with how best to integrate LGBT troops, makes sure no one is offended by nativity scenes in the chow hall, and worries about beards. In the meantime, the radical Islamists of ISIS make millions in oil dollars, slaughter, rape and pillage, and grow ever stronger.
When I’m out traveling the country, people often ask me why our Commander-in-Chief would do these things? It’s a nagging question with two possible answers, and neither are palatable.
Nonetheless, stories like this keep begging the question: whose side is he on?
As reported by McClatchyDC.com, “Two months before Mosul and other cities in northern Iraq fell to the Islamic State last June, representatives of a Syrian rebel group called on the new U.S. special envoy for Syria with an outline of a plan to stop the extremists.”
“The group urged the U.S. to shift its focus to eastern Syria, where the Islamic State had emerged from Raqqa and other towns under its control and begun military operations to capture Deir el Zour province. If Islamic State fighters seized the region’s oil and gas resources, they’d gain enough power to destroy the U.S.-backed rebel forces across northern Syria and link the swath of territory they held in Syria to that under their control in Iraq’s restive Anbar province.”“But the presentation April 17 to special State Department envoy Daniel Rubinstein was stillborn. The plea for immediate financial support for moderate forces in the east, backing for a rebel offensive in Aleppo that would divert Islamic State forces, and relief and medical supplies in the east went unanswered. “Two or three million dollars would have changed the whole thing,” said a rebel official who was at the meeting and spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing a diplomatic exchange. “But we never heard back from them.” I will be the first to admit skepticism when it comes to “rebel groups” in the Middle East but could it be possible we had early warning about how to stem the rise of ISIS but decided to take no action?
Yes, I would prefer our own forces take on Islamic terrorism where it presents itself — not for nation-building but for precision strike operations with overwhelming power. We don’t have to “outsource” our strategic security objectives, but we must indeed confront the enemy.
I still have a bad taste about our resourcing and trusting the February 17 Martyrs as the security force at the Special Mission Compound in Benghazi. Now, if we had thorough vetting perhaps, but there was a certain window of opportunity that presented itself in Syria, and closed.
How could we have used these “rebel forces” against ISIS early on?
McClatchy advises, “Moderate rebels, despite their battlefield setbacks, have unique assets, such as ground-level intelligence about the locations and movements of the Islamic State, a grasp of local politics and the drive to expel foreign-led forces from their country.”
“But they’ve failed to gain traction with the Obama administration for their plans to fight the terror groups, and recently they’ve had trouble even getting a hearing.”
“The Islamic State didn’t follow quite the path that Syrian rebel officials had predicted, conquering Mosul before Deir el Zour. But the rebels were right that the extremists’ takeover of eastern Syria would speed the demise of the moderates by radicalizing the battlefield, opening the border with Iraq to free movement of arms and manpower, and providing the Islamic State with income from the sale of oil and gas.”
So in one year, since the last State of the Union address, the jayvee team has gone from a terrorist group of some 3,000 to a full-scale army that holds territory and as some recent reports have stated, now resembles an actual functioning state.
The folks on the ground aren’t impressed by Obama’s “dedicated” air operation? “You cannot defeat terrorism by airstrikes alone,” said Hadi al Bahra, the president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition. “There must be a strategy in place.” It should entail “full coordination” between U.S.-led airstrikes and ground forces, military pressure on the Bashar Assad regime and a commitment to enable moderates to establish a governing system in Syria, Bahra said. “They listen,” he said of U.S. officials. “But they do not respond.”
It seems that someone did have a strategy – just maybe not for the right side.
Attempts were made via diplomatic means, but have been completely ignored. “In early May, the then-president of the opposition coalition, Ahmad Jarba, made a presentation about fighting the Islamic State to Michael Lumpkin, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. Jarba emphasized that the battle for eastern Syria was “important to Iraq as well” and called for “real alliance . . . to fight this common cancer,” according to notes of the meeting made available to McClatchy.”
“We need a strategic partnership to fight terrorism,” he said at the meeting. “We need logistical support and weapons to help the Free Syrian Army fight the Islamic State on the Iraqi border as well.” The Free Syrian Army is an umbrella group of moderate forces fighting the Assad regime. Lumpkin replied that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was supportive of their efforts against the Syrian regime and al-Qaida, and predicted there would be many more meetings “as we work together to end this challenge to us both,” according to the visitors’ notes.”
But SecDef Chuck Hagel is basically a non-entity now.
“The former chief of staff of the Free Syrian Army – a post stripped of most power because the U.S. disburses covert aid to individual rebel commanders rather than through a general staff – said he’d taken maps and a five-page outline of the first phase of a strategic plan with him, as well as a separate file for the battle against the Syrian regime. “But no one asked me for any of these,” Gen. Abdul-Ilah Albashir said.”
“On May 14, Jarba and other rebel officials spent a half-hour with President Barack Obama at the White House, but the Islamic State threat didn’t appear to be a priority. The White House said they reviewed the “risks posed by growing extremism in Syria and agreed on the need to counter terrorist groups on all sides of the conflict.”
Whatever that means.
“Rebel officials said they hadn’t been able to get an appointment with U.S. defense officials. One obvious candidate would be U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Michael Nagata, who’s in charge of training and equipping a force of 5,000 Syrian rebels under a $500 million program. But Nagata has yet to meet a commander of the Free Syrian Army, according to a knowledgeable rebel official. White House spokesman Alistair Baskey said Nagata and his team were “free to meet with members of the moderate Syrian opposition as they deem fit in order to advance their train and equip program.”
Has any such meeting taken place?
I imagine in two weeks during the State of the Union, we’ll be told by the Commander-in-Chief that ISIS has been degraded, defeated, and on the way to being destroyed. Folks will stand and cheer, for what? This is what happens when campaign promises and politics supersedes strategic national security imperatives. Declaring the end of combat operations is not synonymous with victory.