The administration’s Syria policy has been a joke for years, and it’s getting even worse:
Officials with Syrian rebel battalions that receive covert backing from one arm of the U.S. government told BuzzFeed News that they recently began fighting rival rebels supported by another arm of the U.S. government.
In this case, a Syrian rebel group that the CIA has been arming in collusion with other governments came under attack from the Kurdish YPG that the Pentagon has armed to fight ISIS. U.S. support for one group is now directly undermining its effort to support another, and that’s happening because the U.S. is pursuing two separate and often contradictory goals in Syria at the same time. Remember this the next time you hear a Syria hawk on the campaign trail demand that the U.S. sink even deeper into the morass of Syria’s civil war.
The U.S. is lending support to anti-regime rebels to maintain the fiction of backing a “moderate” opposition, and it is backing the YPG as part of the war against ISIS, which is the administration’s real priority. Given the fractious nature of anti-regime forces and the multi-sided nature of the civil war, it was probably inevitable that different U.S.-backed groups would end up fighting each other. Arming these groups doesn’t provide Washington with any influence or control over how they use the weapons the U.S. provides, and each one has its own agenda and priorities that aren’t going to fit in with the administration’s ramshackle Syria policy.
The YPG naturally doesn’t have any loyalty to other U.S.-backed groups, and Turkey, a nominal member of the so-called anti-ISIS “coalition,” is more likely to see the YPG as the main threat. So Turkish forces are attacking them:
In the face of public objections from U.S. officials and reportedly backed by Russian airstrikes, the YPG has overrun key villages in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib. It now threatens the town of Azaz, on the border with Turkey, through which rebel groups have long received crucial supplies. Over the weekend, Turkey began shelling YPG positions around Azaz in response, raising another difficult scenario for the U.S. in which its proxy is under assault from its NATO ally.
The “broad coalition” that the administration touts as allies in the war on ISIS includes many states and groups that have competing and opposing goals. Many of them are only nominally opposed to ISIS and are far more concerned with fighting the regime and/or securing territory for themselves. The fighting among different allies and proxies is a product and a reflection of the incoherence of administration Syria policy, and it highlights once again the folly of arming the Syrian opposition and expanding the war on ISIS into Syria. The U.S. should start disentangling itself from this mess as quickly as it can, but unfortunately we know that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.