America’s Syria dilemma: Enemy of the enemy now a friend?

(By Deutsche Welle) US efforts to recruit moderate rebels are not going well. With “Islamic State” now enemy number one, the White House has tacitly forged an alliance with its old adversary: Bashar al-Assad. Spencer Kimball reports.

America’s rebel army in Syria has instructions not to attack the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The main enemy is the “Islamic State” (IS). Not that the pro-Western militia poses a threat to either. So far, Washington has only trained 60 fighters.

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter acknowledged as much this week, telling Congress that the number falls far below the Pentagon’s original expectations. The secretary’s admission triggered consternation among President Barack Obama’s opponents and damage control by his supporters.

“Our means and our current level of effort are not aligned with our ends,” Senator John McCain said during a committee hearing. “That suggests we are not winning, and when you are not winning in war, you are losing.”

Why has the US trained so few rebels? There’s a strict vetting process, which according to Carter ensures that recruits are committed to fighting IS as their first priority and will obey the laws of armed conflict.

According to Syria expert David Lesch, the Obama administration has been cautious because it fears US arms could fall into the hands of Islamist radicals: “which has happened on a consistent basis, including US aligned rebel groups’ weapons depots being overrun by Islamist groups.”

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Evolution of the ‘Islamic State’

(By Deutsche Welle) The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now simply the “Islamic State,” continues to advance in northern Iraq, prompting US airstrikes against the Sunni extremist group. DW looks at the group’s origins and goals.

The “Islamic State” is a militant Sunni Muslim extremist group that emerged out of the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

In 2003, the United States overthrew Iraq’s secular dictator Saddam Hussein, outlawed his Arab nationalist Baath party and dissolved the country’s military. Feeling marginalized as Iraq’s majority Shiites rose to power, Hussein’s Sunni co-confessionalists launched a bloody insurgency against the US-led coalition beginning in summer of that year.

Although initially made up predominantly of ex-soldiers and Hussein loyalists, the insurgency grew increasingly radical as Islamist militants led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi infiltrated its ranks. Originally a petty criminal, Zarqawi was radicalized in a Jordanian prison and fought in Afghanistan against the communist government in Kabul – which was abandoned by the Soviet Union – from 1989 to 1992.

Zarqawi was arrested again by the Jordanians in 1994 for plotting against the country’s monarchy, but was subsequently released in 1999 as part of a general amnesty granted after King Hussein’s death.

Zarqawi returned to Afghanistan, but was forced to flee for northern Iraq after the US-led invasion toppled the Taliban in 2001. Once in Iraq, Zarqawi reportedly led the Arab faction within the Kurdish militant group Ansar al-Islam. He subsequently founded al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

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