A key American official has confirmed that the US is ditching the nationalist rebels fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and building a new ground force to focus on fighting the Islamic State, Hannah Allam of McClatchy reports.
“At this point, there is not formal coordination” with the Free Syrian Army, John Allen, the retired Marine general in charge of coordinating the US-led campaign against the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL), told reporters at the State Department.
President Barack Obama has repeatedly swept aside the FSA as “essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists, and so forth” while the CIA gave the group just enough training and arms to survive.
Former administration officials and experts have refuted the idea that the opposition comprises only civilians, noting that tens of thousands of trained soldiers defected from Syria’s army.
Allam notes that the FSA has issues including “a lack of cohesion, uneven fighting skills, and frequent battlefield coordination with the Al Qaeda loyalists of the Nusra Front.”
Nevertheless, the rebel force has a significant presence in Syria’s largest city of Aleppo, for now. Forces fighting for the regime as well as ISIS are currently attacking the FSA from multiple sides.
Hussam Marie, the FSA spokesman for northern Syria, told The New York Times that the loss of FSA positions in and around Aleppo would be “unrecoverable” and “a blow to our shared goals of a moderate Syria.”
Furthermore, it would play into Assad’s strategy of facilitating the rise of ISIS and eliminating the FSA, thereby presenting the West with “a classical choice between military powers and Sunni extremists.”
Overall, the situation in Syria is beginning to look like an intensified version of the State Department’s worst-case scenario as of June 2013: “rebel gains evaporating, the moderate opposition … imploding, large ungoverned spaces [ruled by ISIS], Assad holding on indefinitely, neighbours endangered, and Iran, Hizbollah, and Iraqi militias taking root.”
However, the Obama administration does not seem to mind Assad anymore, despite that fact that the Syrian dictator is overseeing an industrial torture and killing campaign some describe as unseen since the Nazis.
“Some US officials are beginning to see Assad as a vital, de facto ally in the fight against the Islamic State,” Gopal Ratman of Foreign Policy reports.
Many members of the larger US-led coalition believe that Assad is the root cause of rampant extremism in Syria — making him part of the problem as opposed to part of the solution.