Home » Budget Industry » Updated: Congress Approves Funds for Moderate Syrian Fighters

Updated: Congress Approves Funds for Moderate Syrian Fighters

Undated photo of ISIS militants

Undated photo of ISIS militants

The Senate vote of 78-22 to approve a temporary spending bill that included money to support training of vetted Syrian opposition groups to fight Islamist fundamentalists drew praise from President Barack Obama late Thursday.

“I want to thank leaders in Congress for the speed and seriousness with which they approached this issue,” Obama said in a statement shortly after the Senate voted to approve a continuing resolution that will keep the government operating into December and pay for the opposition forces training.

The House passed the same bill Wednesday.

But this week, as both houses, were heading next to recess until the mid-term elections how to confront the growing threat from the Islamic fundamentalists occupied the attention of both houses and their key oversight committee — Armed Services and Foreign Affairs.

Thursday, Rep. Buck McKeon [R-Calif.] and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, opened a hearing wondering if the president had gone far enough. ”By taking options off the table, I fear the president is setting the mission, and our military, up for failure rather than success.”

The training cycles would last “about eight weeks,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this week. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he expected about 5,000 Syrian moderates to be trained over the course of a year.

“What group of Syrians does this force report to and is accountable to?” Dempsey said Thursday at the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL or simply the Islamic State).
“We don’t want to build a force that is accountable to us.”

Building that political entity will take time and remains a difficult challenge, he added

The idea in training this force is not to have them work solely in small units “to go and conduct guerrilla tactics or to defend their village.” Dempsey, who trained Iraqi security forces, said that the goal was to have them operate under a chain of command whose leaders “can maneuver a couple of hundred of these opposition groups at a time.”

The administration estimates that ISIL has more than 30,000 fighters and controls large sections of both Iraq and Syria.

While saying President Barack Obama hasn’t yet decided if the opposition force will operate with American air power in Syria, though it will be an option he will offer, “there are some pretty capable Arab air forces in the region” that it could partner with.

Dempsey sees ISIS as a near-term threat to Lebanon. As for Saudi Arabia, he didn’t say the threat was immediate, but “I’d be absolutely concerned, as I think the Saudi are [about] the eastern oil fields and maybe even challenge the two holy cities.”

What concerned several senators at Tuesday’s hearing on the ISIL threat is what would happen to the moderate Syrian opposition if the regime of Bashar al Assad attacked them.

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, Assad “will attack them from the air, which he has done and with significant success. . . . Would we take action to prevent them from being attacked?”

Hagel said, “They will defend themselves,” adding, “Any attack on those that we have trained and who are supporting us, we will help them.”

Dempsey said there would be difficulty in building a coalition—particularly in the Arab League—that put as its prime objective the removal of the Assad regime. “I think what you’re hearing us express is an ISIL first strategy.”

McCain responded, “You think that those people you’re training will only go back to fight against ISIL.”

“The idea is to squeeze ISIL from multiple directions,” Dempsey said.

To Sen. Clair McCaskill (D-Mo.) that meant also looking at the Sunnis in Iraq for their assistance. “Clearly, the moderate Sunnis have thrown in with ISIL because of the problems, political problems, that they were confronted with in terms of exclusion from the Iraqi government.”

She noted that some Shia clerics have “put pout the call to repel ISIL,” and Shia militias “have been partially responsible for the success that has occurred on the ground.”

Dempsey added that not only was it an ISIS-first approach in Syria, but the first action against it would have to be in Iraq “and then find a way over time in Syria, initially to disrupt using air power and eventually to pressure using the moderate opposition, then I think we’ve put ISIL in an untenable position.”

At the Senate hearing Dempsey said that he would lay out an option to the president of having advisers with Iraqi forces under certain conditions, such as trying to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city.

  • Diogenes

    It’s now official Mr. Grady, the camel’s nose is in the tent. Next will be war fighters to defend air assets and recover downed pilots… then more assets to defend those assets and before we know it… full scale war. Yesterday it was reported Iraq’s new prime minister is slamming the door on US troop presence in Iraq.,.. but of course he has no control over nascent, hopeful Kurdistan… where the US is sending its currently modest ground force and where operational assets will eventually reside when they creep forward. Wonder what the Turks think of that? When this unpleasantness is over the Kurdish nationalists and the Turks will no doubt have more conversation. Meanwhile Mr. Grady reports Gen Dempsey is carefully denying the future introduction of American ground troops without categorically saying so… probably learned that as a young lieutenant from the post-Vietnam era leaders who learned from their predecessors that when dazzling with brilliance is impossible, muddling the explanation with large deposits of testosterone-laced bovine excrement always works well.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    We still don’t know who these people are. I think it’s all about ultimately targeting the Assad regime. I have no problem seeing him and the rest of the mullahs and the likes of the Saudi ruling family all hanging from the minarets, but some effort has to be made to ensure that the aftermath is acceptable as well. Bush got (rightfully) beaten up about that in Iraq. But yesterday there were news reports that Obama will ‘personally’ be selecting targets f0r airstrikes. My God, it’s LBJ and ‘Rolling Thunder’ all over again.

  • The_Universal_Curmudgeon

    Have no fear, the US will not put “Boots On The Ground” for at least – when are the mid-term elections again?

    Even at that the US government is making every effort to induce the countries of the Middle East (like Canada, the UK, France, and Germany) to put THEIR “Boots On The Ground” rather than risking American lives to sort out the mess that was created by the deposition of Saddam Hussein couple with an almost total lack of planning on what to do once the “Evil Dictator” had been toppled and a government consisting of people who had been “carefully” hand-picked by the US government acting in almost total ignorance of the culture and history of Iraq and its people.

    This is NOT to say that I approved of Saddam Hussein – I didn’t. However the Iraqi people had already adopted a very sensible and rational approach to removing him from power. They were simply going to wait for him to die and then kill off whichever one of his two sons was still alive after they had each tried to grab the whole country but before the survivor had had a chance to consolidate his position.

    Much as you may have disliked Saddam Hussein, you do have to admit that his progressive, secular, and (reasonably) egalitarian society was the very antithesis of the type of society that ISIS wants to establish.