Tags: Barack Obama | ISIS/Islamic State | Democrats | Skeptical | Syria | Obama

Dems Worried About Obama's Plan to Arm Rebels in Syria

Dems Worried About Obama's Plan to Arm Rebels in Syria
Syrian rebels armed with WWII Soviet-era Mosin Nagant sniper rifles take positions near the northern city of Aleppo on Sept. 11. (Baraa Al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images)

By    |   Friday, 12 September 2014 07:40 AM

Senate Democrats have serious concerns about President Barack Obama's plan to arm Syrian rebels to serve as ground troops in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), according to Politico.

The lawmakers believe the challenges of identifying moderate rebels could be too great. They signaled their reluctance following a two-hour classified briefing Thursday attended by top intelligence officials and representatives from the Defense and State Departments.

"They were telling me that they were doing everything they can to vet to make sure that the people that are trained are the right people for the right reasons," West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said, according to Politico.

"I said there's no guarantee, and I said there's no security that that's happening. It hasn't happened in the past. And I have deep concerns that we won't be able to be successful at that in the future."

The concerns raise questions about whether the White House will be able to secure the appropriations necessary to fund the rebel plan. It would require the passage by Sept. 30 of a resolution tacked on to a government funding bill.

"I would not support the arm-and-equip request as it stands today. I would not vote for the [continuing resolution] if it was attached," Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy told Politico.

Obama's plan would involve the United States wading into a complex civil war in Syria, and rely on a diverse and scattered group of hundreds of infighting rebel militias, some of which are hard-line Islamists and extremists, The New York Times reported.

"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, a Syria analyst who edits the "Syria in Crisis" blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Times. "It is a very dirty war and you have to deal with what is on offer."

Analysts told the Times that the Free Syrian Army is not a unified force and lacks a coherent leadership structure. Most of the rebel groups do not have links to the Syrian National Coalition so are without a political organization to back their cause.

"There's a lot of skepticism about this piece of the president's strategy," California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told the Times. "The so-called moderate rebels have often been very immoderate and ineffective."

A secret training mission ordered by the president in Jordan to arm Syrian rebels was stalled throughout 2013, though the Central Intelligence Agency ultimately trained 2,000 to 3,000 Syrian rebels.

A new plan announced by the White House in June was to expand the training, and spend up to $500 million for American Special Forces to train as many as 3,000 rebels in the coming year. That plan failed to materialize after congressional lawmakers criticized it for lacking specific details. A revised plan now seeks as many as twice the number of fighters, analysts told the Times.

Meanwhile, even if the plan is approved, military planners said it would take months to train and equip the fighters for battle, and redeployment to combat ISIS would take away from the effort to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, the Times reported.

To date, American cooperation with the rebels has been largely through operations rooms in Jordan and Turkey staffed by intelligence officials. The operations have focused on a small number of vetted rebels equipped with light arms. It has not resulted in any major advances for the rebel cause or prevented the spread of ISIS in the country, the Times said.

"The United States can probably work with them to some extent, but they haven't been hugely effective so far, which is why the Islamic State is there in the first place," Lund told the Times.

"Even the groups that the U.S. has trained tend to show up in the same trenches as the [extremist] Nusra Front eventually, because they need them and they are fighting the same battles."

The U.S. operation could also be hindered by a lack of detailed intelligence about the rebels.

"We need to do everything we can to figure out who the non-ISIS opposition is," Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Syria, told the Times. "Frankly, we don't have a clue."

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Senate Democrats have serious concerns about President Barack Obama's plan to arm Syrian rebels to serve as ground troops in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), according to Politico.
Democrats, Skeptical, Syria, Obama
Friday, 12 September 2014 07:40 AM
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