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U.S. Proxies in Syria Are Attacking Each Other

The administration’s Syria policy has been a joke for years, and it’s getting even worse [1]:

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.


20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "U.S. Proxies in Syria Are Attacking Each Other"

#1 Comment By Captain P On February 20, 2016 @ 12:19 pm

The only people who come out ahead here are the people selling the weapons.

#2 Comment By Adam Rosenthal On February 20, 2016 @ 12:30 pm

Literally no-one apart from the US and Its European allies is primarily concerned with fighting ISIS.

The Kurds were, when more of their territory was under threat from them, but now they’re pivoting to other goals.

Everyone else either tolerates ISIS or literally supports them.

You couldn’t make it up.

#3 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On February 20, 2016 @ 12:50 pm

Supposedly we have a professional foreign service and professional military. I think we did better when our country was run by upper class dillettasntes and polymaths than it is now. Something has gone seriously wrong at Harvard and Johns Hopkins.

I also think 9/11 was just the beginning. Sooner or later, we are going to pay for all this stupidity which, when it kills people, amounts to wickedness.

#4 Comment By Randal On February 20, 2016 @ 1:16 pm

Adam Rosenthal:

Literally no-one apart from the US and Its European allies is primarily concerned with fighting ISIS.

That was correct until you introduced an error by claiming the US and its European allies are primarily concerned with fighting ISIS.

The primary concern of the US and its European satellite states is overthrowing the Syrian government, as we know beyond doubt from the way the US watched IS cross miles of desert to take Palmyra.

The only reasons the US and its European satellites are focusing more, recently, on opposing IS are that Russian intervention removed any possibility of achieving their primary objective, and the PR issues around IS became more embarrassing for them.

#5 Comment By Hunger Games 2016 On February 20, 2016 @ 1:28 pm

An interesting twist in the downward spiral of decadent elite policy-making.

Paying Peter to kill Paul and Paul to kill Peter, like the sicko Roman emperors with their gladiatorial contests.

Look for the government to gin up public support by persuading a pet media mogul to turn it into a reality show with real blood, real death, and a screaming, spittle-flecked audience of the kind of people who vote for Marco Rubio giving online thumbs-ups and thumbs-downs for the contestants.

#6 Comment By Ron Beasley On February 20, 2016 @ 1:32 pm

The middle east is a quagmire of of tribal/religious fighting that has been going on for 1000s of years. We should stay out, they really have nothing we need anymore. The Europeans may be threatened but let them spend their blood and treasure. If the Russians want to intervene let them.

#7 Comment By Adam Rosenthal On February 20, 2016 @ 4:03 pm

@ Randal

Good point. ISIS dos become somewhat more of a thing when they started shooting up Western cities though.

#8 Comment By EliteCommInc. On February 20, 2016 @ 5:29 pm

This is shocking. Just shocking.

not all.

#9 Comment By EliteCommInc. On February 20, 2016 @ 5:29 pm


Not at all

#10 Comment By CharleyCarp On February 20, 2016 @ 7:01 pm

Hey, we’re gonna win!

#11 Comment By dc On February 20, 2016 @ 10:21 pm

Like pitbull or cockfighting. CIA’s rebels in the pit versus Pentagon’s Kurds. Either way, we back a winner. Go team! We’re doing so much winning. Oy!

#12 Comment By rayray On February 20, 2016 @ 10:39 pm

@Captain P
“The only people who come out ahead here are the people selling the weapons.”

This statement may be more profoundly true than any of us want to admit. And the reality of it is even more revealed in the statements of the current GOP than even in our policy in Syria.

#13 Comment By Observer On February 21, 2016 @ 1:27 am

We are supporting the Kurds, the pro-ISIS rebels, and the anti-ISIS rebels. This doesn’t make any sense. All three of them are fighting each other.

Nobody else has this problem.

Russia is supporting the Syrian government and the Kurds. Since the Kurds and the Syrian government aren’t fighting each other, this is not a problem.

Iran is supporting the Syrian government. No problem here either.

Turkey is supporting ISIS. Since ISIS is fighting the Russians and the Kurds, this is no problem. Turkey hates both of them.

#14 Comment By Lee On February 21, 2016 @ 2:23 am

Yup, it’s all about profit for a handful of special interest.

#15 Comment By cka2nd On February 21, 2016 @ 4:05 am

Didn’t our proxies in Afghanistan back in the 80’s fight among themselves, too?

#16 Comment By Mahmud On February 21, 2016 @ 7:11 am

Adam Rosenthal:

“Literally no-one apart from the US and Its European allies is primarily concerned with fighting ISIS.”

That’s because for a secular faction, to focus only on ISIS and ignore the rest of Al-Qaeda and the other Jihadis is illogical. Ahrar ash-Sham’s leader Hassan Aboud has said that ISIS, Al Nusra, the Islamic Front, and the FSA all share the same objective, that of establishing an ‘Islamic State’, and only differ in “tactics, strategies or methods”. Thus from the point of view of the secular factions – the Syrian government and the (mostly Kurdish) Syrian Democratic Forces – singling out the ISIS and ignoring the rest of the jihadi Islamists leaves half the job unfinished.

#17 Comment By jk On February 21, 2016 @ 9:53 am

Boston Globe breaks away from the MSM pro-neocon, omni-interventionist narrative:

“The media are misleading the public on Syria”


#18 Comment By paleo eater On February 21, 2016 @ 11:04 am

From a US Army doctrine on “Stability Operations”:

“Taking the initiative does not just translate into taking action. In a complex environment, and particularly in political or economic spheres, taking no action often proves the best course of action. Commanders strive to ensure that their actions or projects do not undermine either existing capabilities or other efforts. Initiative in a complex environment means that actions or nonactions are deliberate activities, made with the best understanding of the likely impacts of each decision.”

#19 Comment By James Canning On February 22, 2016 @ 1:51 pm

I continue to think the US should have tried to prevent the eruption of civil war in Syria.

#20 Comment By WillW On February 22, 2016 @ 3:15 pm

Did the story so often told in the 80s about the DEA running a sting on the drug dealers who actually turned out to be the Broward Sheriffs running a sting on them actually happen? This sounds like that, except of course people are actually dying. Sweet Mercy.