US-trained ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels to get tools to call-in airstrikes – report

AFP Photo / Joseph Eid

AFP Photo / Joseph Eid

The US will provide its “moderate” rebel ground force in Syria with armored pickup trucks and communication tools to call-in airstrikes, under a new plan that Washington is pursuing in order to curb the ISIS threat it helped create, according to the WSJ.

Moderate fighters are to
receive Toyota Hi-Lux pickups with machine guns with GPS devices
to help the US-led bombing mission coordinate strikes against the
jihadi militants, The Wall Street Journal reported, stressing that the final decision
to provide air support to the rebels hasn’t been made.

Based on information from several sources, the publication states
the plan is part of a “train-and-equip” program that is
due to begin next month and will mark the first time Washington
has openly armed the rebels. The Pentagon hopes to outmaneuver
ISIS in the region by providing the rebels with
“superior” training and air support capabilities.

Based on the experience of the Kobani campaign last year, where
rebels called in American B-1B bombers for help, officials hope
the strategy will succeed. “The way we envision it, it would
be very similar to Kobani,”
said a senior military official.

The US planes would drop 500- and 2,000-pound guided bombs on
moving targets, such as tanks, using the B-1’s sniper pod.

WSJ however questions the possible success of such a decision, as
officials believe that moderate rebels will not outnumber the IS
forces. Officials also point out that rebels could use their
newly gained capabilities to call out strikes against President
Assad’s forces.

“I would say it is more of a PR thing than part of a
sustained campaign,”
James Carafano, a defense analyst at
the Heritage Foundation said of the potential campaign.

The US-led mission to train Syrian rebels is expected to start as
early as March. The Pentagon, which said it plans to train 5,000
Syrian fighters a year for three years, foresees the first batch
of 3,000 US-trained rebels returning to Syria around the end of
2015, Rear Admiral John Kirby told Reuters.

US government databases and regional ones will be used to perform
background checks on candidates.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan are offering help with
training bases, but Kirby declined to comment further on the
choice of sites. “There’s about 1,200 individuals who have
been identified for participation – potential participation – in
this process and in this program,”
he said.

As part of the training mission, teams of four to six rebels will
each be given a Toyota pickup and trackers enabling them to call
in airstrikes. The fighters will also be given mortars, or even
more complex antitank weapons.

Military officials said their ability to control the rebels will
be limited once they are on the battlefield, but Washington plans
to use some leverage, such as ammunition resupply and paychecks
to keep control on those it helped train.

“All those things could be put at risk if they go counter to
what we have asked them to do,”
one official told The Wall
Street Journal.

READ MORE: Pentagon dispatches first batch of US
forces to train Syrian rebels

The US expanded its large-scale air campaign against ISIS into
Syria in September after the US president authorized US Central
Command to work with partner nations in the region to tackle the
jihadi threat. Damascus however has seen no direct cooperation
since airstrikes began on its soil without any legal
international mandate. The US National Security Council has
refused to coordinate its air campaign with the Syrian
government, which the US considers to have lost legitimacy.

Washington should respect the sovereignty of Syria in its
attempts to deal with the Islamic State, Damascus warned earlier.
Many experts expressed concern that US airstrikes may eventually
target not only the Islamic State, but also government targets
and forces loyal to President Assad.

The departure of Assad in such an unstable situation would only
lead to more chaos and suffering for the Syrian people, Russia
warned earlier. Moscow insists that only direct talks between
parties involved in the conflict – the government and the
opposition – can help to resolve the ongoing crisis in the face
of more severe radical jihadist threat.

Leave a comment