News / Middle East

    Analysts: US Syria Proxy Army Not Reliable

    A rebel fighter from the "First Battalion" under the Free Syrian Army takes part in a military training on June 10, 2015, in the rebel-held countryside of the northern city of Aleppo.
    A rebel fighter from the "First Battalion" under the Free Syrian Army takes part in a military training on June 10, 2015, in the rebel-held countryside of the northern city of Aleppo.

    A loosely-coordinated group of Syrian rebel factions earmarked by U.S. officials as a proxy army to partner with in northern Syria lacks coherence and reliability, warn analysts and rival rebel commanders.

    Renamed the Syrian Arab Coalition last week by U.S. military commanders, the group would serve as an alternative to a ground force the Obama administration had hoped to recruit from scratch, train and equip.

    The loose coalition of Sunni Arab factions, who have been collaborating with Syrian Kurdish fighters along the border with Turkey, may be provided with arms in a U.S. plan that would have them support re-equipped Kurds in a major offensive on Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State terror group.

    According to U.S. officials, President Barack Obama gave the go-ahead at a meeting of the National Security Council last Thursday for the Pentagon to start directly rearming Syrian Kurds and the “Arab-Syrian opposition” as part of a strategy to put pressure on the Islamic State and to isolate Raqqa. At the same time the U.S.-led coalition would intensify strikes on the terror group with increased sorties launched from the NATO base at Incirlik in southern Turkey.

    The move comes as Russia appeared to be on the brink of ratcheting up its intervention in Syria, adding a ground element to an aerial bombing campaign started last week — one that has shaken up an already complex battlefield and prompted comparisons to the proxy wars of the Cold War era.

    In this photo taken from Russian Defense Ministry official website on Oct. 6, 2015, a Russian SU-24M jet fighter prepares to take off from an airbase Hmeimim in Syria.
    In this photo taken from Russian Defense Ministry official website on Oct. 6, 2015, a Russian SU-24M jet fighter prepares to take off from an airbase Hmeimim in Syria.


    Russian intervention

    President Vladimir Putin’s military liaison officer to the Russian parliament disclosed Monday a plan to send “volunteer” troops to Syria to help buttress Moscow’s ally President Bashar al-Assad. The Kremlin claims its main target is the same as Washington’s — namely, the Islamic State. That claim is questioned by Washington because most Russian airstrikes have targeted anti-Assad rebels in western and central Syria as opposed to IS strongholds in the east.

    U.S. officials insist they started to consider the re-supply plan for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, and their Sunni Arab allies before Russia launched its air campaign. And last month Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of American forces in the Middle East, appeared to outline a changed U.S. strategy when he told a congressional panel that the Obama administration planned soon to put “a lot more pressure on key areas in Syria, like the city of Raqqa.”

    His comments were in the wake of the apparent acceptance by the Obama administration that an 18-month program known as train-and-equip to raise an indigenous Syrian Arab rebel proxy force to work with the U.S. to defeat IS had failed.

    But the perception here among Syrian rebel commanders is that Russia’s airstrikes have added urgency to Washington’s plan to have the Kurds and Sunni Arab proxies mount a major offensive against IS— a bid they suspect is meant to change dynamics on the ground quickly before the Russian intervention gets into stride and to try to stop Moscow from appearing to seize the initiative.

    Syrian Arab coalition

    Commanders with both the Western and Gulf-backed Free Syrian Army and Islamist militias in the Army of Conquest alliance, who have been spurned by Washington because of their links with al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, are critical of the likely beneficiaries of the planned U.S. arms supplies — the so-called Syrian Arab Coalition, whose factions they dub “opportunists.”

    They say the factions have a checkered history, one that has involved shifting allegiances and readiness at times to work with al-Nusra and the Islamic State.

    One of the major factions — Liwa Thuwwar al-Raqqa — collaborated with Jabhat al-Nusra in Raqqa before the town was captured by IS. It broke with the al-Qaida affiliate last year and joined a loose confederation known as the Euphrates Volcano, the basic forerunner of the Syrian Arab Coalition.

    Another faction in the new coalition, Jaysh al-Qasas, worked with IS in 2014. FSA commanders say its leader spends most of his time in Turkey and his fighters are most interested in looting.

    “They are fighters who have moved from one militia to another,” says Abdul Rahman, a commander with the Army of Mujahideen , which is aligned with Jaish al Fata, or the Army of Conquest, the Islamist rebel alliance.“Most of them are rejects. They are not reliable — we don’t trust them,” he told VOA.

    Adding to the widespread distrust among the main rebel brigades is an overall suspicion of the YPG itself, which has as its over-arching objective to establish an autonomous Kurdish State in northeast Syria. They call the Sunni Arab factions working with the YPG, “Kurdish parties.”

    Syrian children walk past debris while heading to school on the second day of the new school year on Oct. 6, 2015 in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.
    Syrian children walk past debris while heading to school on the second day of the new school year on Oct. 6, 2015 in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.

    FSA vs YPG

    FSA and Islamist commanders have warned the YPG to stay in Kurdish areas and not to push into Arab villages. Earlier this year, they accused the YPG of displacing Arab families in villages captured by the Kurds. Mutual suspicion between the FSA and Islamist rebel militias, and the Kurds has deepened as Kurdish-led forces have gone beyond their traditional home territory.

    In June, some of the armed groups at the heart of the Syrian Arab Coalition helped the YPG pull off a major and surprisingly easy victory, retaking the Syrian border town Tal Abayad from Islamic State extremists. But their contribution was marred when some of the Sunni Arab factions squabbled over who should govern the town after the jihadists left, prompting Kurdish exasperation, say town residents.

    “The Kurds let them haul up the Syrian rebel flag but they [the Arab militias] then started bickering about who would control the town,” says Mohammed, a border smuggler who has worked with a variety of rebel groups. “In the end, the Kurds stopped the argument by saying they did.”

    “I generally agree with the testimony of those rebels you have spoken to,” says Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a fellow at U.S.-based think tank the Middle East Forum. He says that armed groups in one of the largest of the factions, the Dawn of Freedom, have “reputations for corruption.”

    “The main groups of the coalition are splinters from larger rebel militias and in the case of Dawn of Freedom it is essentially a regrouping of militias that had reputations for criminality in North Aleppo, such as Ghuraba al-Sham,” he told VOA. Some of the factions were thrown out of an Islamist rebel alliance.

    Al-Tamimi added: “The other components of the rebel allies with the YPG are small groups of locals who fled their homes in Deir ez-Zor and Jarabulus” after the Islamic State overran the towns. Some are members of the Shammar tribe in eastern Syria, which has suffered repeated IS reprisals and massacres.

    Al-Tamimi says the Syrian Arab Coalition factions “have their own agendas that ultimately conflict with the YPG's but they don't have the power to challenge the YPG political wing's governing authority over places like Tal Abyad. They simply don't compare with the YPG in terms of strength.” He and other analysts estimates the Syrian Arab Coalition’s numbers from 3,000 to 5,000 fighters; the YPG can field about 25,000.

    But al-Tamimi cautions that overall numbers are hard to assess with any firm reliability. During the months-long battle to keep the Kurdish border town of Kobani from falling into IS hands, the estimates of Sunni Arab fighters cooperating in the town with the YPG varied considerably. One of Dawn of Freedom’s leaders, Abu al-Layth, claimed 250 of his men went to Kobani but “the numbers steadily went down over time, from 160 fighters in a subsequent conversation down to 70.”

    Kurdish political activists say the numbers and military capabilities belie the potential of the Syrian Arab Coalition. Kovan Direj, who has worked with the YPG in northern Syria, said the Kurds have been careful to avoid subsuming the Sunni Arabs cooperating with them. The YPG “armed the Arabs to defend themselves,” he says. And the Coalition could be the vehicle for several Arab tribes — not just the Shammar — to avenge IS killings. “They only need weapons to start,” he added.

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    Comment Sorting
    by: Serge from: Russia
    October 07, 2015 6:15 AM
    Dear Aziz Ibn Mabdulla from: al Iskandariyah,
    Why do you call Meanbill a shepard (shepherd?) of Islam and a true Islamic patriot? He says the real truth but not only Islamic truth. He helps all honest people (but not only muslims) to fight against devil.

    by: Nikos Retsos from: Chicago, USA
    October 06, 2015 1:34 PM
    Of course the U.S.-Syria proxy army is not reliable - if it exists. The Commander of the U.S. Central Command in Florida that cover Middle East, General Lloyd Austin, told the U.S. Congress 2 weeks ago that the U.S. had only 4-5 fighters only in Syria. Two days later the Pentagon announced an investigation into the defection of most of its trained Syrian rebels to Islamist groups.

    Now the U.S. renamed some Syrian groups "The Arab Syrian Coalition (ASC) ," and reports say that the ASC has 3.000 to 5.000 fighters! How the 4-5 fighters that the U.S. had two weeks ago grew to 5.000? I doubt if the Arab Syrian Coalition exists. It is not, therefore, "Not Reliable;" it is "Non-Existent!" I bet that the U.S. claims it exists to accuse Russia of bombing it - rather than bombing the Islamic State. That is true! Russia is in Syria to bomb anybody with a gun and save its proxy Bashar Assad! Nikos Retsos, retired professor
    In Response

    by: Aziz Ibn Mabdulla from: al Iskandariyah
    October 06, 2015 7:10 PM
    I like this Meanbill, he speaks our language and the tells the sins of Americas. America is bad for the world, and Meanbill help us Moslem spread the word. Peace be upon you, Mr Meanbill, you are truly a shepard of Islam.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    October 06, 2015 4:43 PM
    Hey Nikos Retsos _ Beginning in 2011 the (CIA covert operations) armed and trained tens of thousands of foreign Sunni Muslim extremists, fanatics, and insane in Turkey and Jordan to wage war on the Shia Muslim led government of Assad and Syria, [but after entering Syria], most of them deserted and joined either al-Qaeda or the ISIL terrorist army? .. [Where did you think al-Baghdadi got his ISIL terrorist army in March of 2013, [to invade Iraq in August of 2014], out of thin air?]

    [Then], in 2014 the (US army special operations) started arming and training as many (moderate) foreign Sunni Muslims they could find in Turkey and Jordan to wage war on the ISIL terrorist army (or) on the Shia Muslim led government of Assad and Syria? .. [to this day?] .. The (US army special operations) still arms and supplies the (moderate) Sunni Muslim terrorists, and the (CIA covert operations) still arms and supplies the thousands of foreign Sunni Muslim (crazy) terrorists? .. [Don't allow yourself to be confused?] .. [They are two separate US groups of terrorists, armed, trained, and supplied by two different US groups?] .. I hope this clarified it for you?

    by: James Jones
    October 06, 2015 1:07 PM
    If you can't commit, then you should quit. Obama is too much of a wimp to do anything, so he should leave and quit trying. He's such a loser.

    by: CengizD from: Syria
    October 06, 2015 1:07 PM
    There's no "good rebel" and "bad rebel", all of them are "bad rebels", all of them are Islamists. Assad is the only secular ruler who protects minorities including Yezidis and Christians and the Kurds. Support Assad and Syria will be back to its good days, where all ethnic groups and religious groups were living in peace. The real devil is Turkey.

    In Response

    by: curtis from: nigeria
    October 24, 2015 1:17 PM
    CengizD, you are a great analyst. You even know and speak more intelligently than the advanced nations, except Russia. I agree with your analysis 100%. In fact, I have always said that every problem has its solution with it. No problems solution is away from it. Hence, Turkey, especially, is the main problem in the Syrian conflict. That Turkey is in NATO changes nothing. Actually, Turkey joined NATO for dubious reasons as this. It is written that "actions speak louder than words", and, "a man cannot give what he doesn't have". So, Turkey, turkey leaders, cannot solve the problem and should not be allowed to intervene.
    In Response

    by: Chip from: USA
    October 06, 2015 4:45 PM
    I watched a credible documentary about the country of Syria shortly BEFORE the uprising began ... and the majority of Syrian people profiled seemed to be quite happy with their lives and the leadership their country.

    Of course I have no way of knowing with any certainty. But ....

    CengizD, I'm glad to read your views.

    by: meanbill from: USA
    October 06, 2015 12:42 PM
    The US has armed and equipped through the CIA their (moderate) Sunni Muslim terrorists in Syria with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and other lethal weapons _ just like the US armed and equipped the Mujahideen Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and other lethal weapons to help them defeat the Russians in the 80s? .. The US has been doing it all along against Syria, but they are acting like they just started doing it now? .. [Hypocritical, isn't it?] .. [to help the US (moderate) terrorists defeat the ISIL terrorists, (or), help them to defeat the Russians again, or Assad and Syria?] .. Think about it?
    In Response

    by: Aziz Ibn Mabdulla from: al Iskandariyah
    October 06, 2015 7:14 PM
    Mr Meanbill, I truly enjoy your words as they fill my troubled heart with such joy and your hatred for your sinful nation America is as entertaining as any intimate encounter I have ever had. Thanks to true Islamic patriots like yourself who expose the Great Satan for what it reall is.

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