When the dust settles, the Trump administration will have cut funds for rebuilding the parts of Syria it helped destroy and instead allocated those funds for arming extremist elements that seek to transform northeastern Syria.
WASHINGTON – Back in March, amid speculation that President Donald Trump would push for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, his administration froze $200 million in funds intended for “recovery efforts” in Syria. Those funds were intended to rebuild infrastructure such as roads, water lines and the power grid in areas of Syria decimated by U.S. coalition strikes. Included in the plan was the city of Raqqa, which saw its water supply sabotaged and 80 percent of its buildings destroyed as a result of the coalition effort to retake the city from Daesh (ISIS). Six thousand dead bodies – many of them civilians – remain buried in the rubble.
Since then, the cutting off of U.S. “humanitarian” aid to Syria has continued, despite the fact that a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria is now highly unlikely. For instance, last Thursday, CBS News reported that the Syrian White Helmets, the controversial “humanitarian” group funded by foreign governments, had also had its U.S. funding frozen as it came under “active review” at the State Department.
New evidence, however, now shows that those U.S. recovery funds are still intended for use in Syria, though they won’t be going towards any humanitarian causes. According to a portion of the Pentagon’s budget titled “The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Request Counter-ISIS (Daesh) Train and Equip Fund (CTEF),” the U.S. has allocated $300 million to arm and equip 65,000 soldiers who are part of U.S. “partner forces” in Northeastern Syria. That area of Syria is currently occupied by the U.S. and its proxies, such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The Pentagon’s request also calls for $250 million to be used in building “border security” in Syria, bringing the total request for military aid to U.S. proxies to $550 million, a figure significantly higher than the amount of “recovery funds” that was frozen.
The Pentagon’s request was approved as part of the budget signed into law by Trump on March 23. One week later, the Wall Street Journal first reported that recovery funds for Syria had been frozen. The timing of the request’s approval seems to suggest that the aid money was cut in order to be allocated to arming U.S. proxies in Syria — essentially a straight swap of “humanitarian” aid for military backing.
Funding “our” terrorists
While the stated purpose of the $550 million is to arm and fund the Syrian Democratic Forces, much of that money will likely find its way to arming Daesh fighters and other terrorists who have been “retrained” as part of a U.S. government effort to turn the occupied portion of Syria into a permanent enclave.
Though the SDF is dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), it is an umbrella group of several militias. Some of the newly created militias serving under that banner, such as the Deir Ezzor Military Council (DMC), are composed of former members of Daesh and al-Nusra (Syria’s Al-Qaeda affiliate), who were “retrained” by U.S. forces in Northern Syria after surrendering to the SDF and U.S.-backed forces in Raqqa. In addition, local tribes that were formerly allied with Daesh have joined forces with the SDF over the past year.
Furthermore, the SDF also regularly collaborates with Daesh in Northeastern Syria, a practice that has led to major defections of Kurds from the SDF — including SDF’s former spokesman Talal Silo, who accused the group of making secret deals with terrorists.
As a result, former Daesh and al-Qaeda fighters will now be armed by the U.S. government, thanks to their affiliation with the SDF. The U.S. – in exchange – expects them to serve as “Internal Security Forces” within occupied northeastern Syria in order “to ensure a safe and secure environment and [be] capable of countering ISIS [Daesh].”
Arming Daesh fits U.S. plan for Middle East
Arming former Daesh soldiers to counter Daesh is hardly a reasonable counter-terror strategy. However, the U.S. has shown itself to be much less interested in eliminating Daesh from the area than in transforming the area into a permanent enclave of Wahhabi Arabs controlled by Saudi Arabia, as part of Washington’s long-standing bid to partition Syria. The Saudis have stated their interest in the area, which is likely related to the fact that the occupied portion of Syria contains 95 percent of the country’s oil and gas potential as well as most of its fresh water and farmland.
Despite YPG hopes of creating a Syrian Kurdistan in the northeast, giving control of northeast Syria to U.S.-controlled opposition forces, in this case extremist Wahhabi groups, has always been the U.S.’ plan. According to a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report from 2012:
There is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”
This tactic has been used by the U.S. before, namely in the 1980s in Afghanistan, where the U.S. aided the creation of al-Qaeda as a means of controlled opposition aimed at challenging the presence of the Soviet Union in the country.
As the DIA report notes, the goal of this enclave is ultimately aimed at weakening the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad — and, by extension, the presence of Syria’s regional ally Iran within Syria. As U.S.-based intelligence firm Stratfor noted in 2002, taking control of Syria’s northeast would greatly complicate the land route between Syria and Iran as well as the land route between Iran and Lebanon. This has since been repeated by the Trump administration as a major reason for the U.S. occupation of Syria’s northeast.
When the dust settles, the Trump administration will have cut funds for rebuilding the parts of Syria it helped destroy and instead allocated those funds for arming former Daesh soldiers and other extremist Wahhabis that seek to transform northeastern Syria into a colony of Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism that has long funded both Daesh and Al Qaeda.
The U.S. government, once again, has revealed that its “counter-terrorism” strategy is not about stopping terrorism, but using it in order to fulfill long-standing geopolitical goals for Syria and the region.