U.S. Strategy against ISIS in Syria Relies on Backing “Moderate Rebels”... Who May Not Exist

Monday, October 06, 2014
Syrian rebels in training (AP photo)

The Obama Administration’s plan for so-called moderate rebels to be the “boots on the ground” needed to subdue ISIS in Syria and Iraq doesn’t account for the moderates to ride into battle on golden unicorns, but it might as well—it’s about as easy to find one as the other.


The major groups fighting ISIS in Syria are Jabhat-al Nusra, affiliated with al-Qaeda; the Islamic Front; and the Kurdish YPG, according to Ben Reynolds at Counterpunch. The Kurds are the closest to a moderate group, but they’ve been known to throw in with the Syrian army in its efforts to fight ISIS as well as other opposition groups. “You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that respects human rights and that is waiting and ready because they don’t exist,” Aron Lund of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told The New York Times. “It is a very dirty war and you have to deal with what is on offer.”


Part of the U.S. strategy involves having Saudi Arabia train some of the rebels. However, the Saudis have connections with al-Nusra and many Saudis share that group’s extremist view of Islam. Whether “secular” rebels can be trained without becoming radicalized is an open question.


In the end, the United States may be dancing to the tune called by ISIS, just as the George W. Bush Administration took Osama Bin-Laden’s bait and attacked in Afghanistan and Iraq, causing the radicalization of many in the Middle East. The bombing of ISIS positions necessarily is causing civilian casualties. “The U.S. bombs do not fall on ‘extremism,’ they are falling on Raqqah, a 2,000 year-old Syrian city with a population of more than a quarter of a million people–men, women and children who had no say in the take-over of their city by ISIS,” Phyllis Bennis wrote in Common Dreams. “The Pentagon is bombing targets like the post office and the governor’s compound, and the likelihood of large number of civilian casualties as well as devastation of the ancient city, is almost certain.”


Bombing, Bennis continued, “will give ISIS and its allies a new basis for recruitment, it will strengthen the repressive Syrian government, it will undermine Syria’s struggling non-violent opposition movement, and it will further tighten the links between ISIS supporters in Syria and in Iraq.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Analysts Sound Alarm on ‘Myth’ of Moderate Syrian Rebels (by Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams)

There are No Moderate Syrian Rebels (by Ben Reynolds, Counterpunch)

Obama Does ‘Stupid Stuff’ in ISIS War (By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, Consortiumnews.com)

Who’s a ‘Moderate’ Rebel in Syria? Check the Handwritten Receipts (by Dana Liebelson, Mother Jones)

U.S. Pins Hope on Syrian Rebels With Loyalties All Over the Map (by Ben Hubbard, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times)

Almost Half of Syria’s 100,000 Rebel Fighters are Hardline Islamists (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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