Arming rebels; what could go wrong?

Let’s go for a Syria trifecta…

One of the few things that’s more popular among the DC establishment than sending US soldiers off to fight wars is sending US weaponry off to folks who will use them to fight wars on our behalf. There’s just a small problem with shipping arms to friendly people all over the world, which is that it frequently backfires:

ISIS is using American military hardware in Iraq now because that country’s government wasn’t able to build a strong, cohesive military in the decade between Saddam’s ouster and ISIS’s Mosul offensive. There are hundreds of millions of dollars in US weapons that have been lost in Afghanistan and now belong to the Taliban, partly because the US military apparently can’t keep track of its stuff but also partly because that country’s government has been an utter catastrophe virtually since the day the Taliban were run out of Kabul. Ditto in Yemen. And, ah, Libya, Syria, and Somalia as well.

Still, the lure of arming moderate Syrian rebels is strong, and surely we’re due for some good luck in that department, right? Well, actually…

The Pentagon has said that a group of US-trained Syrian fighters has handed over ammunition and equipment to al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the country, purportedly in exchange for safe passage.

The acknowledgement contrasted with earlier denials by the US defence department of reports that some fighters had either defected or handed over gear.

“Unfortunately, we learned late today that the NSF (New Syrian Forces) unit now says it did, in fact, provide six pickup trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected al-Nusra Front [group],” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said on Friday.

Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for Central Command, which is overseeing efforts against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), said the fighters had handed over the gear in exchange for safe passage in the Nusra operating area.

Later reports clarified that the rebel commander who turned the ammo and equipment over to Nusra was not part of the US training program, but that about 30 of his fighters were, and they brought the supplies back to their militia when they re-entered Syria from Turkey. Nusra apparently let him know that he could either hand over the goods, or else Nusra would attack and take them. Or, hell, maybe the rebels just gave that stuff to Nusra because Nusra is part of the big anti-Assad team, and concocted a story about how Nusra demanded it from them to cover their tracks with Washington. Either way, the end result is the same.

At least this time it was only a few trucks and some ammunition. Imagine if these guys had been given advanced firearms or anti-tank weapons. I don’t want to harsh anybody’s buzz, but maybe arming these rebels, even after they’ve graduated from Moderate Rebel A&M, isn’t such a great idea. At the very least, maybe we should wait until there are a few more graduates from the program, enough that they can afford to refuse Nusra’s demands, before we send in the weapons.

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