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U.S. State Dept. : “Moderate’ Syrian rebels being absorbed by Nusra Front”
The information came from US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson, giving testimony in front of lawmakers.
“The Nusra Front, which is an al-Qaeda affiliate, has absorbed a number of what we would previously call the moderate opposition,” Patterson told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
However, the revelations had very little impact on US President Barack Obama’s plans in Syria, as Washington continues to criticize the Russian air strikes and is planning to send around 50 special operatives to Syria to train and assist the moderate rebels.
“The vast majority of Russian air strikes are targeted in areas where the Assad regime has lost territory to forces led by the moderate opposition,” claimed US Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland.
“We are accelerating the work we are doing to support the moderate Syrian opposition and to protect Syria’s neighbors.”
On Friday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest announced that the US would be sending around 50 US advisers to Syria to train so-called “moderate rebels.” Earnest defined the mission as to “train, advise and assist.”
The move to send American military advisors to Syria completely contradicts what the US President Barack Obama promised just over two years ago: “I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria,” he said during a televised national address on September 10, 2013.
Some critics have spoken out, labeling the US move as unlawful.
“There is not legal authorization for troops to go into Syria without permission. This is illegal. Congress has not been consulted or asked and they have not approved it. So the president is acting out of bounds,” retired US Air Force lieutenant Karen Kwiatkowski told RT.
“Clearly, [the US] strategy of working with what we considered to be moderate rebels was wrong. And it is going to be put to an end I think. People in Washington have an imagination about how the mIddle East works that is really not related to reality at all,” Kwiatkowski added.
American advisors being deployed to Syria also brings up all the issues related to previous failures of the US train and equip program that had been run out of Turkey. The US eventually gave up on the training part of the project, as senior US officials admitted that, despite the program’s $500 million budget, the US had only trained a handful of fighters.
However, there were cases when the stockpile of weapons given to the US-trained rebels ended up in the hands of terrorists, after the so-called “moderates” willingly handed them over to jihadists soon after crossing into Syria.
Failed Syrian rebel training program cost US taxpayers $2 million per fighter
USA Today reported the train-and-equip program was abandoned after the department had already spent $384 million on it. “Of the 180 Syrians vetted, trained and equipped, 145 fighters [remained] in the program,” the report stated. Of those 145 fighters, 95 were in Syria.
When asked to comment on the findings, the Pentagon disputed that it had spent $2 million per fighter, saying the actual cost was far lower – $30,000 per trainee. They added that the “vast majority” of the funds had gone to buying weapons, equipment, and ammunition, of which some was is still in storage.
“Our investment in the Syria train and equip program should not be viewed purely in fiscal terms,” Navy Commander Elissa Smith told the news outlet in an email. Smith said some of those trained fighters had been calling in air strikes, and that ammunition designated for trainees had been given to other forces fighting the Islamic State instead.
According to the documents outlining the program’s $501 billion budget, $204 million was supposed to be spent on ammunition, $77 million on weapons, $62 million on mobility, $47 million on services, $46 million on construction, $40 million on strategic lift/shipping, $13 million on equipment, $6 million on communications, and $6 million on facilities and maintenance.
The program was intended to graduate 3,000 trained and equipped New Syrian Forces fighters in 2015, and 5,000 annually afterwards, to combat Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). However, President Barack Obama abandoned the program earlier this fall.
In documents and interviews, USA Today was able to confirm that two of the four training camps designed for the program never hosted even a single recruit.
In September, it was revealed that one group of trainees had surrendered one quarter of their US-supplied weapons, ammunition, and vehicles in exchange for safe passage through territory held by another rebel group, considered to be extremist.
While the training has stopped, the US will continue to give equipment and weapons to the leaders of ‘vetted’ groups of rebels who are already fighting IS “so that over time they continue to re-claim territory,” Smith told USA Today.
The rebel training program’s $500 million budget was in addition to the $42 million the Pentagon had already spent in 2014 to set it up.
The findings come as the Obama administration announced it was set to deploy up to 50 US special operations troops in northern Syria to assist in the fight against IS. It marked the first time the administration openly said it would send ground forces into Syria.
The Associated Press reported the White House has put no timetable on how long the American forces will stay in Syria, although Obama has previously said he expects the campaign against IS to last beyond his presidency.
Obama inherited two military conflicts and will hand off a third to his successor. He recently announced plans to maintain a troop presence in Afghanistan beyond 2015.
In July, the National Priorities Project, a non-profit, non-partisan federal budget research group, reported that America’s war in Afghanistan has cost taxpayers roughly $4 million an hour. Their research found more than $700 billion has been spent on the war since the George W. Bush administration authorized the invasion in 2001, including more than $35 billion in fiscal year 2015.
The initial budget for the Afghan war was over $20 billion for 2001/02. The budget dropped to $14 billion over the next two years as spending shifted to the war in Iraq. Expenditures on the Afghan war took a back seat to Iraq war spending before ballooning to more than $100 billion in 2010, when the cost of the Iraq war began to decline. Spending in Afghanistan continued to top $100 billion annually until 2013, when it began falling by increments of $10 billion, finally reaching its current budget of $35 billion.
Terrorist of Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham Al Islami (Islamic Movement Free Men Levant) with his weapon, © Diaa Al-Din / Reuters
All anti-Assad rebels at this current moment in time have intent to kill, they’re using heavy armaments, using mining on areas in which they are leaving, Danny Makki, from the Syrian Youth Movement in the UK, told RT.
RT: The Russian Defense Ministry says militants in Syria are mining residential areas as they retreat… What are they trying to achieve with these tactics?
Danny Makki: Ultimately, this is a scorched earth policy which some of the rebel groups have been using for around four years now where every single area they leave after the Syrian Army enters it or different group is essentially destroy the food supplies. Any potential areas where the Army can use as encampments or actually utilize for strategic purpose are being destroyed, literally, through mining, through explosives and dynamite. This has been quite a regular factor of every area the Syrian Army has entered has essentially been destroyed as soon as they have arrived. The rebel groups are so cautious as to not leave one inch of strategic gain. So, it would make them destroy any area which may be utilized by the Syrian army or any other groups fighting alongside the Syrian Army.
RT: Moscow is being accused of targeting the moderate opposition. But would the groups labeled as moderate be mining residential houses?
DM: Exactly, this just brings us to the chaos of terminology which is present on Syria. Some of these moderate groups are really nowhere to be seen. This is ultimately a fantasy which is present in the Western press and media. But I’ve yet to identify one truly moderate rebel group within Syria, apart from maybe Hazzm movement (Harakat al-Hazm) which was created by the US and was incidentally destroyed by Al-Qaeda. So, this is a myth of rebels who are moderate and how they are using moderate techniques and not beheading Syrian soldiers.
All anti-Assad rebels at this current moment in time have intent to kill, they’re using heavy armaments, using mining on areas in which they are leaving. And ultimately there is no really big difference, neither militarily or ideologically, between some of the mainstream Islamist groups within the conflict and some of these so-called moderate groups. But even with the admission of the US, these moderate groups amount to maybe hundreds at the bare minimum of fighters… So, ultimately, the major presence of rebels in Syria is manifested by the Islamic extremist groups such as Ahrar ash-Sham. And the Western media describes these as moderate Islamic extremist groups such as the so-called Jaysh Islam or Jaysh al Fatah recently which is a constellation of groups including Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, which Western media outlets and some Western officials have deemed as moderate allies within Syria. But if you look deep in to these moderate groups there is no actual level of moderation within the ideology. And their actions are not the actions of a group which has an ideological consensus with Western countries.
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