Analysis: Arabs see US-trained anti-Islamist force as only fit to ‘play paintball’

The Arab world perceives the dramatic failure of the small US-trained Syrian rebel force as a further indication that it cannot be a reliable ally against the Iran led Shi’ite axis.

August 6, 2015 00:45
2 minute read.

AN ISIS member rides on a rocket launcher in Raqqa in Syria two months ago. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The Arab world perceives the dramatic failure of the small US-trained Syrian rebel force as a further indication that it cannot be a reliable ally against the Iran led Shi’ite axis.

A US defense official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said on Tuesday that at least five Syrian rebels it has trained are believed to have been captured by the Nusra Front.

That followed an attack by the Nusra Front on Friday thought to have killed one member of the so-called “New Syrian Forces,” in what would be their first battlefield casualty.

The incidents underscore the extreme vulnerability of the New Syrian Forces, a still tiny group estimated to number less than 60, who only deployed to the battlefield in recent weeks.

The Pentagon is far behind on its goals to train around 5,000 fighters a year.

Kirk Sowell, principal of Uticensis Risk Services, a Middle East-focused political risk firm, who closely follows Arab media summed it up this way on Twitter: “Pentagon: Arab media are laughing at you.”

Sowell posted a broadcast by pro-opposition Orient News, which expressed astonishment as to why the US would send in a force of only 50 to 60 fighters to help destroy Islamic State.

Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a fellow at the Middle East Forum who closely follows Islamist opposition groups in Syria and Iraq, told The Jerusalem Post that “for many Sunni Arabs and Syrian Sunni Arab rebels in particular, this train-and-equip program has had no credibility from the outset.”

This is because the notion of fighting Islamic State while ignoring regime forces does not make sense for them, said Tamimi.

“US policymakers’ sense of reality on the ground is seriously in question with the apparent failure to anticipate a clash with the Nusra Front, which has a notable presence in the Azaz district into which the force of 50-60 men was inserted,” he continued.

Since the US has targeted Nusra Front in air strikes it is not surprising that the group would view a US backed group as a threat, he said.

Middle East researcher Ali Bakir, who also writes for Arab publications, told the Post on Wednesday that “no one in the Arab world takes this program seriously; I mean you would need around 50 to 60 people to play paintball but definitely not to fight Islamic State.”

“There is a profound general perception in the Arab world that the Obama administration is no less responsible than Iran and Russia in the Syrian crisis,” he said.

The deal with Iran and the cooperation with Iranian forces against Islamic State, include “Shi’ite militias that are no less criminal.”

This situation is increasingly seen in the Arab world as siding with the Shi’ites at the expense of the vast majority of Muslims, he asserted.

The US administration is more concerned about not jeopardizing the Iran deal than helping the Syrian people, Bakir added.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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