Wednesday, July 06, 2016

US Backed Militia Suffers Defeat

A much advertised offensive by a Syrian militia organized by the United States ended in failure last Wednesday. The Boukamal offensive intended to capture the last ISIS held border crossing between Iraq and Syria. It was launched last week with intensive US air support. New Syrian Army fighters managed to briefly capture an airfield at Hamdan before retreating back to their base at Tanf, 150 miles to the west of the border, after loosing some vehicles and four fighters. The United States has had limited success in finding and supporting "partners" in the fight against ISIS. Only the Kurdish dominated Syrian Democratic Forces have wrested territory from the terror group in Syria's north. Because NATO partner Turkey is combating it own Kurdish insurgency, the US has been reluctant to embrace Kurdish aspirations of nationhood. The one thousand man New Syrian Army was trained by the United States and British special forces with the Jordanian army acting in an advisory role. Pentagon sources refuse to say how much or what type of support the militia army is receiving. It is made up of Syrian army defectors, local militia groups, and indigenous Islamist fighters. They use almost exclusively American made weapons.

A 200 man rebel attacking force managed to escape ISIS encirclement at Hamdan with the help of US air strikes and reinforcements from another US equipped unit. A New Syrian Army fighter who escaped destruction said his group hoped for support from local Sunni tribesmen, but the aid did not materialize. Since 2014 when it declared the "caliphate", ISIS has conducted a campaign of intimidation along the border to prevent defections among resident Sunnis who freely cross it back and forth. Among the Sunni Shueitat tribe that lives near Boukamal, one thousand members are missing or believed beheaded by the terrorists. A Jordanian advisor said no support will be forthcoming from potential resistors until they know ISIS will be defeated because they fear the organization's well known brutality. The US officer in charge of the failed campaign said it was "a very tough fight", but acknowledged the setback.

In a related development, the outgoing White House occupant cancelled a planned reduction in force for Afghanistan. Obama told reporters that American force level there will remain at over 8,000 for the remainder of his term. The decision is a recognition of the country's "precarious" security circumstances. The United States despite fifteen years of war has been unable to eliminate the Taliban and Afghanistan's army is unable to effectively function alone despite huge amounts of US military aid. He had expected to leave about five and half thousand in country, but recent attacks by the Taliban caused him to slow down the withdrawal. Obama is acutely aware of handing his successor an untenable military situation in Afghanistan and his legacy of failure to end America's flawed, costly interventions in the Middle East. Afghan civilian casualties are at a record high and thirty-eight Americans have died in fighting in the last eighteen months. A Taliban spokesman twitted that what Obama could not do with 149,000 troops, he cannot do with 8400. Apparently the Taliban are good at math.