'Nobody Believes in It. Everyone on the Ground Knows They Are Jihadis.' -- US Special Forces Hate Their Syria Mission
The Special Forces personnel ordered to train up Syrian 'anti-ISIS rebels' are so disgusted with their mission -- which they believe amounts to training future al-Nusra terrorists -- that they feel they serve America best by passively sabotaging their mission
A former US Army Ranger over at Sofrep.com which bills itself as a kind of unofficial newsletter of the US Special Forces has a fascinating scoop on the attitudes of American soldiers to their Syria training mission. Read the opening paragraph:
“Nobody believes in it. You’re like, ‘Fuck this,'” a former Green Beret says of America’s covert and clandestine programs to train and arm Syrian militias. “Everyone on the ground knows they are jihadis. No one on the ground believes in this mission or this effort, and they know they are just training the next generation of jihadis, so they are sabotaging it by saying, ‘Fuck it, who cares?'”
That's right. Reportedly US special forces on the ground detest the work they've been ordered to do. The 7,000-word article is really much more than that -- it chronicles much of the CIA's war in Iraq and Syria including its early failure to take the ISIS threat seriously, and its continued failure to devote meaningful resources to going after the group. Instead, Murphy explains CIA has kicked that job to Special Operations Forces while becoming obsessed with toppling the Syrian government:
ISIS was now on the CIA’s radar. CTC [CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center] targeted the organization, but not often enough to have any tangible effect on the battlespace. Toward the end of 2014, the CIA had less than 20 targeting officers and analysts dedicated to fighting ISIS. As of early 2016, the situation had improved little. According to several sources, the CIA simply does not care about ISIS. Using an excuse that ISIS is an army rather than a terrorist organization, they have punted the job to Army special operations-the men of Special Forces and Delta Force.
In Syria, the overwhelming priority for the CIA is what some CTC officers call Director John Brennan’s baby: the removal of the Assad regime.
It then chronicles how America got embroiled in a proxy war versus the Syrian state via the CIA noting that:
Distinguishing between the FSA and al-Nusra is impossible, because they are virtually the same organization. As early as 2013, FSA commanders were defecting with their entire units to join al-Nusra. There, they still retain the FSA monicker, but it is merely for show, to give the appearance of secularism so they can maintain access to weaponry provided by the CIA and Saudi intelligence services. The reality is that the FSA is little more than a cover for the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra.
The fact that the FSA simply passed American-made weaponry off to al-Nusra is also unsurprising considering that the CIA’s vetting process of militias in Syria is lackluster, consisting of little more than running traces in old databases. These traces rely on knowing the individuals’ real names in the first place, and assume that they were even fighting-age males when the data was collected by CTC years prior
Basically the gist of the matter is that while CIA has an anti-terrorist program it has been grossly neglected as resources were almost exclusively devoted to its Syrian Task Force which -- you guessed it -- is tasked with Syria regime change:
Brennan was the one who breathed life into the Syrian Task Force, which was able to draw upon resources from CTC/SI. “John Brennan loved that regime-change bullshit,” a former CIA officer commented. CTC/SI focuses on counterterrorism, while the Syrian Task Force conducts espionage, influence operations, and paramilitary activities in conjunction with the Special Activities Division (SAD) as needed in pursuit of regime change, including the covert arming of militia groups inside Syria.
The CIA’s Ground Branch paramilitary component was being treated like a bunch of toddlers in Syria, with case officers acting as if they were just hired help. Composed of former special operations personnel, Ground Branch has been very active in combat while working alongside Afghan commandos assigned to that country’s NDS intelligence service, but in Jordan, they were not trusted to do anything more than observe and report. They could ask rebel leaders who came across the border how things were going, but not much else.
With CIA unwilling to pick up the slack the job fell down to commandos of one of the Special Forces outfits, the 5th Special Forces Group which is based in Jordan and Turkey. Their job was not to fight ISIS but instead to train Syrians who showed up saying they were willing to do so:
By 2015, U.S. Special Forces were established in both Jordan and Turkey with the task of working by, with, and through surrogate forces to attack ISIS. In this instance, they rarely, if ever, fought alongside indigenous forces, but rather by them, training them in a host nation and then deploying them or working through third-country nationals such as Turkish and Jordanian Special Forces to train the Syrian militias who were then sent across the border.
The special soldiers entrusted with the task, however, quickly grew disillusioned. One complaint was the seeming low quality of the recruits, another their apparently questionable loyalties:
The rebels know how to sell themselves to the Americans during such interviews, but they still let things slip occasionally. “I don’t understand why people don’t like al-Nusra,” one rebel told the American soldiers. Many had sympathies with the terrorist groups such as Nusra and ISIS. Others simply were not fit to be soldiers. “They don’t want to be warriors. They are all cowards. That is the moderate rebel,” a Green Beret told SOFREP. “A bunch of farmers and retards who could not hack it in ISIS, and the Syrian Army would not want them either.”
Among the rebels that U.S. Special Forces and Turkish Special Forces were training, “A good 95 percent of them were either working in terrorist organizations or were sympathetic to them,” a Green Beret associated with the program said, adding, “A good majority of them admitted that they had no issues with ISIS and that their issue was with the Kurds and the Syrian regime.” Like the militias being trained in Jordan, the rebels being trained in Turkey were not ready for combat. “It is not in their blood to be fighters. A large majority of them are criminals,” a Green Beret said. Many were foreign fighters, some from Iraq. One even turned out to be a Lebanese drug smuggler.
“The majority of these guys have been coached on what to say at the training site and give cookie-cutter answers,” the Special Forces soldier told SOFREP. They would portray themselves as being secular, but the Americans could tell who the hardliners were because they didn’t smoke (jihadis follow Wahhabi Islam, which does not permit it) and looked at the Green Berets with disdain.
The Americans' relationship with the Turks is complicated to say the least:
The relationship with the Turks was, and is, extremely complicated. In the tactical operations center (TOC) run by U.S. Special Forces in Turkey, there are also Turkish military officers present. The Americans have to pretend that they are not working with the Kurds, while other 5th Group members and Delta Force operators are, in fact, embedded with the Kurdish YPG militia. Likewise, the Turkish military turned a blind eye and pretended not to know that the Americans were with the YPG militia in Syria. To make a strange situation even stranger, the Green Berets also had to pretend not to know that the Turkish Special Forces were training their own jihadi force in northern Turkey.
Turkey sponsors groups like Ahrar al-Sham (the CIA has tracked al-Qaeda members from the federally administered tribal areas in Pakistan joining them), and the Turkish Special Forces train them and then send them across the border into Syria using the Jarabulus corridor. When the jihadis come through, the Turkish military transmits the code word “lights out” to tell the border guards to let their proxy force through.
Bizarrely it's as if the brass itself, not just the rank-and-file does not believe in the mission either:
Pallets of weapons and rows of trucks delivered to Turkey for American-sponsored rebel groups simply sit and collect dust because of disputes over title authorities and funding sources while authorization to conduct training for the militias is turned on and off at a whim. One day they will be told to train, the next day not to, and the day after only to train senior leaders. Some Green Berets believe that this hesitation comes from the White House getting wind that most of the militia members are affiliated with Nusra and other extremist groups. Those given arms by Special Forces are given American-made weaponry in order to keep the militias dependent on the United States for ammunition resupply.
While the games continue on, morale sinks for the Special Forces men in Turkey. Often disguised in Turkish military uniform, one of the Green Berets described his job as, “Sitting in the back room, drinking chai while watching the Turks train future terrorists.”
To be sure Jack Murphy does not name a single officer or soldier he spoke to for the article. However, you wouldn't expect a serving special forces soldier to be at liberty to talk to a journalist in this manner.
Moreover Murphy shares such a wealth of insider information, eg on the buerocrating infighting and the continuous search of raison d'etre among the various units and branches of the special forces, that it is inconcievable that he made the story out of whole cloth -- it's obvious the author is intimately familiar with the US Special Forces and retains contacts there. This is just a tiny example of the information Murphy reveals:
In regards to Syria, 5th Group leaders see ISIS as the only game in town. The war in Syria keeps them relevant and gives them a purpose to remain in the Middle East. Initially, they deployed to Jordan with the excuse that they would be there to secure weapons of mass destruction from the Assad regime, which was redundant since JSOC has a specialized unit for that task. In reality, 5th Group wanted to be on the leading edge for a potential invasion of Syria.
So here's your take-away; soldiers ordered to train up Syrian rebels to fight ISIS are so disgusted with their mission, they think it's their patriotic duty not to follow orders, but to pull a Good Soldier Švejk and passively sabotage their mission:
For the time being, the Special Forces soldiers assigned to carry out Title 10 programs feel as if they have to make it look like they are doing their job while actually doing nothing. With their hands tied behind their backs, options are few and far between. Many are actively sabotaging the programs by stalling and doing nothing, knowing that the supposedly secular rebels they are expected to train are actually al-Nusra terrorists.