But that’s not true. There is a U.S. Syria strategy, and it is showing signs of increasing success.
Former U.S. Army vice chief of staff
General Jack Keane said he spoke with Republican senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who were briefed by the president on Monday.
“What [Obama] has told the two senators is that he also intends to assist the opposition forces, so he is going to degrade Assad’s military capacity and he is going to assist and upgrade the opposition forces with training assistance,” Gen. Keane told BBC Radio.
Subsequently Graham, who recently said he cannot support limited strikes that “are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield,” said: “There seems to be emerging from this administration a pretty solid plan to upgrade the opposition.”
The U.S. plan: Degrade Assad, bolster opposition, curb jihadists
Last week Pentagon officials told The Wall Street Journal that the planned attack would “deter and degrade” President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces. The key would be hitting various Damascus headquarters as well as some of the regime’s six operable airports.
These airports are the “regime’s nervous system,” defected Air Force Colonel Hassan Hamada told Der Spiegel.
The less obvious, and more long-term, part of the plan involves providing vetted parts of the opposition with advanced weaponry, training them with Western advisors, and curbing the funding for jihadist groups.
The U.S. hasn’t yet armed moderate fighters, but Saudi Arabia has.
The Institute of The Study of War’s Liz O’Bagy, who made trips to various parts of Syria in the last year, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that moderate rebel groups “have recently been empowered by the influx of arms and money from Saudi Arabia and other allied countries, such as Jordan and France.”
She added that these weapons “helped fuel a number of recent rebel advances in Damascus.”
Interpreter Magazine Editor-in-Chief Michael D. Weiss, who also covers Syria extensively, told Business Insider that the Saudi weapons had made it to East Ghouta, i.e., the site of the August 21 chemical weapons attack.
Last week Weiss reported that Saudi Arabia has been working closely with Jordan, the U.S., U.K., and France to “set up and run an undisclosed joint operations center in Jordan to train vetted Syrian rebels in tactical warfare methods, intelligence, counterintelligence, and weapons application.”
About 1,000 trainees have graduated from the program so far, according to Weiss, and one Syrian interviewed said his brother’s martial skills improved immensely after finishing the program.
Furthermore, The New York Times reports that Obama told senators “the first 50-man cell of fighters, who have been trained by the C.I.A., was beginning to sneak into Syria.”
Lastly, something must be done to stem the flow of money to dominant jihadist groups, which Weiss calls “a scandal, but an easily remedied one.”
This money comes primarily from Kuwait and Qatar, and Weiss writes that the U.S. Treasury Department can and should pressure Gulf countries ” to eliminate whatever private or quasi-state fundraising mechanisms al Qaeda and other non-FSA-aligned extremist groups in Syria exploit to keep themselves in cash and bullets.”
So even if one is opposed to American military retaliation for the August 21 chemical attack, or thinks that efforts to bolster moderate rebels have failed up to this point, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a clear American strategy in place against the Assad regime.
Obama said as much on Tuesday: “We have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition, allow Syria ultimately to free itself from the kinds of terrible civil war, death and activity that we’ve been seeing on the ground.”
House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leaders Nancy Pelosi and Eric Cantor subsequently said that they now support the president’s plan.
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