Questions on Funding Forces in Syria
With the rise of ISIS forces in Syria, and Bashar al-Assad still in power, outside actors looking to stop ISIS, as well as wanting to ensure that Al-Assad and his dictatorship will not stay in power are weighing different strategies regarding different forms of involvement in the conflict. For example, on Thursday, February 19th, 2015, “The United States and Turkey signed an agreement Thursday to train and equip vetted Syrian opposition fighters, a deal that has been months in the planning but appears to have been held up by a divergence in priorities between Washington and its regional allies” (Al Jazeera, 2015).
With regards to this, “The U.S. military has said it is planning to send more than 400 American troops, including special operations forces, to train vetted Syrian rebels at sites outside Syria as part of the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)” (Al Jazeera, 2015). Furthermore, “U.S. officials have said they plan to train about 5,000 Syrian fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) every year for three years. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as Turkey, have publicly offered to host training sites (Al Jazeera, 2015).
However, some have pointed out that there are risks with how one can support rebel forces. Namely, some have pointed out the difficulty in finding the “moderates.” As scholars have pointed out,
“turning the foundering FSA into a force capable of beating both the Assad regime and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) would require far more help than anyone, including the U.S., is willing to give them. The FSA is currently the weakest force on the ground in Syria, a result not only of inadequate foreign backing compared with that of rival Islamist and extremist factions, but of its own internal divisions, byzantine leadership structure (based in Turkey) and rampant corruption. President Obama himself recently admitted it was a “fantasy” to believe a bunch of “doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth” ever had a chance of overthrowing the Moscow-backed regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad by themselves” (Pizzi, 2015).
However, as Pizzi (2015) explains,
“That view is not shared by the FSA and its political partners, including the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, which argue that more arms and training would remedy all these shortcomings. They may have a point: a recent survey by University of Maryland-based researchers of a small sample of rebel fighters found that the top two reasons fighters abandoned the FSA were the bleak prospects for victory and the ragtag army’s lack of discipline and organization. Heavy anti-aircraft weaponry, which the FSA have been requesting for years now, coupled with American military know-how could curtail the group’s downward spiral and wean it from its current reliance on less savory factions, leaders of the FSA argue.”
It will be interesting to see whether the outside actors believe that the FSA is a viable force against ISIS and Al-Assad.