President Obama contemplated arming the already controversial ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels weapons to “defend themselves against Russian aircraft and artillery” as his Plan B for Syria when all else failed in the effort to oust Assad — but although this treacherous plan has been effectively shelved, it remains an option for whomever next ascends to the White House.
According to a new report from the Washington Post, Obama’s Plan B has neither been “approved or rejected” in the U.S.’ disintegrating and increasingly complex campaign to depose Syrian President Bashar al Assad — which has, of course, precipitated a perilous proxy war with staunch Syrian ally, Russia.
Skepticism over allowing the CIA to provide various anti-Assad terrorists — euphemistically termed moderate rebels by the U.S. — with “truck-mounted antiaircraft weapons that could help rebel units but would be difficult for a terrorist group to conceal and use against civilian aircraft” apparently forced the plan to be tabled, the Post reports.
In the U.S. program to topple Assad, the CIA has armed and trained defectors from Syrian military known as the Free Syrian Army — whose own defectors went on to form the Islamic State — as well as other terroristic groups virtually indistinguishable from one another except for their political ideologies.
These issues factored into restrictions on weapons the U.S. would provide to their sponsored rebels; but, as the Post explains:
“Rebels chafed at the restriction, complaining that it left them vulnerable to air attack by Assad and, more recently, Russia.”
Plan B was envisaged as a compromise by the CIA.
But the complex state of affairs in Syria has led not only the FSA, but other ‘moderates,’ to ‘radicalize’ — complicating U.S.’ goals and frustrating Russian efforts to purge the embattled nation of terrorists. While the Pentagon’s public goal has duly sought to wrest control from Assad and fight the Islamic State, the CIA program of arming rebels is widely considered counterproductive — if not, perhaps, nefarious.
Plan B, despite potentially devastating repercussions, retains stolid support from top officials, including unsurprisingly CIA Director John Brennan and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter — but has lost favor recently with former proponents, including Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kerry and other skeptics rightly grasp providing heavy artillery to rebels fighting Russia-backed Syrian government forces to down Russian aircraft — which would undoubtedly turn the smoldering U.S. proxy battle into an all-out war with Russia.
Additionally, the Post reports, a growing number of U.S. officials feel the contentious CIA program has only proven to bedevil the ultimate goal of regime change, and, as one unnamed ‘senior official’ noted, CIA units are, “not doing any better on the battlefield, they’re up against a more formidable adversary, and they’re increasingly dominated by extremists,” adding, “What has this program become, and how will history record this effort?”
Proponents of the program, however, have not vacillated from the apparent imperative to remove Assad at all costs, as another anonymous official insisted, “The FSA remains the only vehicle to pursue those goals.”
However, as political language intends, grouping the whole of U.S.-assisted fighters under either the label moderate or as the Free Syrian Army belies untold complexities of the intricate situation in war-ravaged nation.
In fact, a number of splinter groups have exploited training and weaponry provided by the CIA to commit atrocities befitting everyone’s enemy, the Islamic State.
In July, for instance, members of U.S.-armed and funded Nour al-Din al-Zinki — officially deemed ‘moderate rebels’ — filmed themselves gleefully beheading a 12-year-old boy. Those ‘rebels’ claimed the child had been a fighter with pro-Syrian government paramilitary faction Liwa al-Quds, which the latter group vehemently denied.
Amnesty International released a scathing report detailing horrific abuses of the Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement leaving little to differentiate these U.S.-supported fighters from the infamous Islamic State terrorists. Although the State Department — forced to respond to international fury over the video — vowed the gruesome death would be the vehicle to review its support for such laughably-termed moderate rebels, the program continues to this day.
Providing deadlier weapons to such groups for the explicit purpose of downing Russian aircraft could not only facilely spark all-out war, but would assuredly worsen the carnage against Syrian civilians.
“We continue to press for options that will decrease violence in Aleppo and alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people,” an unnamed senior Obama administration official vaguely explained, ignoring the logical contradiction of arming violent groups to stop violence. “We and our partners will continue to provide support to the opposition and Syrian civil society in a manner that advances those objectives.”
Other officials lamented the chaotic entanglement gripping Syria thanks to yet another American program of regime change — and the assistance Assad has received from his powerful ally.
“It’s a fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. There’s a huge risk here since the Russians entered,” an anonymous former administration official, ‘directly involved’ with the implementation of the program, told the Post. “The lesson out of this is that if you don’t take action early on, you should almost expect the options to get worse and worse and worse.”
Indeed, toppling Assad has embroiled the United States government in worsening relationships with longstanding allies and led all of us down the path toward a third world war. It’s widely believed the White House’s only tenable alternative is to tuck tail and halt the antagonistic Syrian campaign — an option which, though it might prevent all-out war, would be akin to admitting failure.
Shelving Plan B without a distinct decision, the aforementioned former administration official noted, should not be seen as significant.
However, without definitively canning the proposal to arm rebels with anti-aircraft weapons to shoot down Russian jets, Plan B remains a potential option for whomever assumes office in January — and that, given a host of unknowns, could indeed be highly consequential.