Syrian rebels don't think much of US war strategy

The US plan to arm and train Syrian rebels to hold ground rather than attacks is not sitting well with the fighters and politicians in the opposition.

Foreign Policy:

The Obama administration's strategy to train Syrian rebels to defend, but not seize, territory from Islamic State militants is facing stiff resistance from America's partners in the Syrian opposition.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the United States has determined that newly trained rebel fighters will not be able to capture strategically important towns from the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, without the support of forward-deployed U.S. combat troops. So instead, those rebels will only be assigned to defend already controlled territory.

On Thursday, the Syrian National Coalition, which is recognized by the United States as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, told Foreign Policy that the plan "just doesn't make sense strategically.

"The only way to defeat ISIS is to defeat ISIS. You cannot be reactive and wait for them to besiege liberated towns and villages," said Oubai Shahbandar, a senior advisor to the group.

The disagreement highlights the conflicting priorities within America's anti-ISIS coalition. Although Obama administration officials are reluctant to place newly trained rebel units in a fight they could easily lose, other rebel units desperately want backup in the battle against the radical Sunni group. As a result, different rebel forces are likely to operate independently of one another, despite Washington's marching orders.

"The force the U.S. trains will likely be just that -- one opposition group fighting among others against the Assad regime and ISIS," said Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "While we may want them to simply hold ground, that doesn't mean they will agree, let alone all opposition forces."

As a sign of this disconnect, the Syrian opposition says it's bringing the fight to ISIS now with no plans to let up. "The tribes in the east are killing off ISIS fighters," said Shahbandar. "There can be no pressing a 'pause button.'"

The thinking of the Obama administration in getting the rebels to stand pat is simple; they think the easiest and quickest solution to the Syrian civil war would be a negotiated settlement. The US will never commit the resources to bring the rebels a military victory over Saddam's Russian-supplied armies, so working for a stalemate and negotiations would give President Assad the burden of getting rid of Islamic State forces currently occupying Syrian territory.

The rebel's primary enemy is still Assad, despite US wishes that they engage IS forces. Given their opposition to US plans, success doesn't seem likely.

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