The U.S. Congress met yesterday to vote on whether to arm and train the Syrian rebels that have been fighting Bashar al-Assad’s loyalist forces for the past three years, and more recently the terrorist group known as the Islamic State (ISIS). The Obama administration hopes that new American support will enable the rebel forces to continue their fight against ISIS more effectively.
In a somewhat surprising vote, Congress voted in favor of arming and training the rebels.
Remember, American aid has been indirectly trickling to the Free Syrian Army since 2012 by way of airlifting and otherwise trafficking weapons to vetted rebel commanders. Since Congress voted in favor of arming and training their forces, the U.S. will take a direct approach against both Assad’s forces and the ISIS jihadists.
Concerningly, however, the rebel forces appear to have signed a “non-aggression” pact with the Islamic State.
Instead, they’ve vowed to concentrate their fighting against the Syrian government. The leader of the Free Syrian Army has stated that they would not take part in U.S.-laid plans against the Islamic State until they received assurances that the U.S. would also topple Assad.
With these events in mind, the question arises on whether it’s a good idea to invest American taxpayer dollars into a newly empowered rebel army.
On the flip side, the Kurdish fighters have been valiantly fighting ISIS in Northern Iraq. They’ve also been making impressive gains against ISIS in Syria. Earlier this week, Kurdish fighters forced ISIS militants out of a dozen Syrian villages.
The Kurds have been pleading the U.S. for aid for quite some time, and last month the U.S. agreed to arm them. However, the arms provided consisted of light arms and ammunition. Hardly the equipment necessary for dealing significant damage to ISIS, who utilize American-made armor plated Humvees and other heavy weaponry captured from the Iraqi military.
There’s a major strategic disconnect here.
President Obama has made it clear that the Islamic State is a cancer that must be eliminated at all costs. Anyone that is familiar with the pure evil committed by ISIS on a daily basis is inclined to agree with him. And that being said, American dollars would be far better spent arming the Kurdish Peshmerga Forces in Northern Iraq, and the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) with the heavy materials they need in order to conduct an effective offensive against the jihadists.
The Kurdish people have been the most effective fighting force against the Islamic State. U.S. airstrikes continue to aid their progress in Iraq, and their forces in Syria have found success in pushing ISIS back as well. Syrian rebel forces have been engaged in a bloody civil war for three long years, with heinous acts of violence committed against them by Assad’s forces. Clearly their priorities lie in ousting the Syrian government before taking the fight to the Islamic State.
All of this means that while arming and training the Syrian rebels may give a slight edge to forces on the ground in the immediate future, long term prospects are uncertain at best. The Kurds have proven they are allies of the United States, they’ve proven their military capability, and most importantly they’ve proven their strategic effectiveness in the fight against the terrorists. If Obama and Congress truly want to see the Islamic State beaten they should be arming the Kurdish Forces first, and the Syrian rebels, second.