Monday, October 5

Obama regime finally admits CIA is backing some "rebel" groups in Syria

This is such a surprising development that I'm not sure the acknowledgment, published this evening in the Wall Street Journal, came directly from the White House. The report only quotes those pesky "unnamed officials" and "senior unnamed officials" whose utterances litter news reports that leak information on behalf of a U.S. Administration, which, finally, can be termed a "regime" on account it's a big no-no for a government to admit to the public it's sponsoring terrorists or terrorist-affiliated groups that it insists on calling "moderate rebels."

The really interesting part of the report, as Long War Journal pointed out during its Monday night report for the John Batchelor Show, is that it actually names groups being sponsored by the CIA -- although maybe not all the groups. 

If the Obama regime's sudden forthrightness is perplexing, I already explained earlier today that U.S. defense policy is overseen by a small group of women in the White House -- one of which I think is Obama's mother-in-law -- whose knowledge of war strategy is solely derived from lessons learned in a Bingo parlor in Maryland. 

Now what strategy can be discerned from coming right out and saying you're sponsoring terrorists you insist on calling moderate rebels?  

Well perhaps it's to shore up Assad's oft-repeated claims that the United States is sponsoring terrorist groups in Syria. Sort of a way to rehabilitate his image, so Obama can back away from insisting that Assad has to go in order to bring peace to Syria. 

All right, Pundita, that's enough beating up on Obama for one day.   

The podcast of LWJ's report tonight is here.  Plenty about Afghanistan in the report as well. By the way they mentioned that Islamic State had captured TOWs in Iraq, so not all of the ones that fell into IS hands in Iraq were from the Saudis with the Obama regime's tacit encouragement. Pundita. Enough.

Wait, just one comment on the WSJ report before I turn over the podium, from a WSJ reader named Jerome Ogden:
If I read the word “moderate” attached to any Syrian terrorist group one more time in the WSJ, I am going to write a strongly worded letter to the editor.
Al Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, is what prison gangs call the “shot-caller” with command over all the militias facing Assad. Our handful of CIA-funded terrorists follow Nusra’s orders or are killed. WSJ dances around this with carefully evasive phrases like “a parallel campaign by larger radical groups” and “units backed by the CIA and its spy-service allies,” both meaning Nusra, backed by Saudi and Qatari intelligence.
It’s obvious why these circumlocutions must be used. If the American people knew that the Russians were bombing Al-Qaeda, who killed 3,000 of their countrymen on 9/11, they would be cheering on the Russians with unbounded enthusiasm, as I am right now.
My sentiments exactly. All right, Pundita, enough!  Enough!  See this is the problem with having your alter ego write for the public. Pretty soon you're the one wearing the toebells and holding the cue cards.    
By Adam Entous
Oct. 5, 2015 - 7:38 p.m. EDT
The Wall Street Journal

White House noncommittal about coming to aid of its allies

Russia has targeted Syrian rebel groups backed by the Central Intelligence Agency in a string of airstrikes running for days, leading the U.S. to conclude that it is an intentional effort by Moscow, American officials said.

The assessment, which is shared by commanders on the ground, has deepened U.S. anger at Moscow and sparked a debate within the administration over how the U.S. can come to the aid of its proxy forces without getting sucked deeper into a proxy war that President Barack Obama says he doesn’t want. The White House has so far been noncommittal about coming to the aid of CIA-backed rebels, wary of taking steps that could trigger a broader conflict.

U.S. officials said Russia’s targeting of its allies on the ground was a direct challenge to Mr. Obama’s Syria policy. Underlining the distrust, the Pentagon decided against sharing any information with Moscow about the areas where U.S. allies were located because it suspected Russia would use that information to target them more directly or provide the information to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“On day one, you can say it was a one-time mistake,” a senior U.S. official said of Russia’s strike on one of the allied rebel group’s headquarters. “But on day three and day four, there’s no question it’s intentional. They know what they’re hitting.”

U.S. officials say they now believe the Russians have been directly targeting CIA-backed rebel groups that pose the most direct threat to Mr. Assad since the campaign began on Wednesday, both to firm up regime positions and to send a message to Mr. Obama’s administration.

Russian officials said last week that they had launched the air campaign in Syria to fight the extremist group Islamic State and other terrorists—adopting the language that the Syrian regime uses to refer to all its opponents. U.S. intelligence officials said the primary mission of the operation appeared to be shoring up the Assad regime and preventing rebels gaining any additional ground on government-controlled areas, rather than fighting Islamic State.

A spokesman for Russia’s Embassy in Washington said: “Foreign MinisterSergei Lavrov has made it clear on multiple occasions that the airstrikes are targeted at ISIL [Islamic State], Nusra, and other terrorist groups.”

Top Russian officials, including Mr. Putin, have described the current campaign as limited to airstrikes. But Adm. Vladimir Komoyedov, the head of the defense committee of Russia’s lower house of parliament, said he couldn’t rule out that Russian “volunteers” might surface in Syria, much as they did in Ukraine on the side of separatists, according to state news agency Interfax.

After one group backed by a CIA-led coalition was hit, U.S. officials couldn’t agree on whether Russia was targeting U.S.-trained fighters intentionally or whether it was making no distinction between the many anti-Assad rebel groups. By the second day of strikes, however, U.S. officials said they concluded that Russia was zeroing in on CIA-backed groups across a wide swath of the country’s west.

One of Russia’s first targets was a CIA-backed group known as Tajamu al-Ezzeh or the Ezzeh Gathering in Hama province in central Syria, U.S. and rebel officials said.

The first strike on the group came at 9 a.m. on Sept. 30, catching its fighters off guard. Seventeen more strikes were launched against the group over the first three days of the Russian campaign, injuring 25 of Ezzeh’s fighters. Some of the injured had received CIA training, according to their commander, Maj. Jameel al-Salih. Four strikes on the first day targeted Ezzeh’s headquarters.

American officials and the allied commanders said several other rebel groups covertly backed by the U.S. and its coalition allies have also been targeted by the Russians. They include the First Coastal Division, whose base in northern Latakia province near the Turkish border was struck twice on Oct. 2 starting at 9:45 p.m., according to the group’s commander, Capt. Muhammad Haj Ali.

The Obama administration briefly considered asking the Russians to avoid certain areas inside Syria held by moderate opposition rebels, officials said. But they set aside the idea when it became evident the Russians could use the information to more directly target America’s allies.

There have long been skeptics within the Obama administration and the Congress about the CIA’s arm-and-train program in Syria, reflecting doubts in both branches of government about the ability and the wisdom of trying to build an anti-Assad army from scratch.

Mr. Obama initially balked at proposals in 2012 to provide arms to rebels in Syria fighting the Assad regime. Aides said Mr. Obama was wary of a slippery slope that could draw the U.S. into another Middle East war.

In early 2013, under pressure from Gulf allies, the president authorized a covert CIA program to gradually build a moderate force strong enough to put military pressure on Mr. Assad and those around him. That pressure would, in theory, force the regime to accept a diplomatic solution, the administration told Congress. Even some senior CIA officials, however, didn’t sound confident it would work soon, lawmakers recalled.

Initially, CIA-backed rebels made little headway. Last year, the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, attacked some of the units in northern Syria and seized their weapons, prompting the CIA to scale back that part of the program.

CIA-backed rebels in southern Syria and near the capital Damascus fared better. CIA-backed rebel groups gradually regained footholds in northern Syria and, combined with a parallel campaign by larger radical groups, began to increase pressure on Mr. Assad, U.S. officials said.

U.S. officials said this pressure shook the Assad regime’s confidence in its ability to protect its coastal strongholds including Latakia province, and spurred Russia’s muscular military intervention on Mr. Assad’s behalf.

U.S. officials say they believe the Syrian regime has been handing targeting information to Russia, and considers units backed by the CIA and its spy-service allies to be high-priority targets. One reason is their possession of advanced TOW antitank weapons supplied under the CIA program.

Members of the brigades said in interviews they believed they were being targeted by the Russians to weaken the moderates, without whom the West would have to accept Mr. Assad’s continued rule. The other rebel groups on the battlefield are too radical for the West to work with, they said.

U.S. officials and rebel leaders said the White House thus far has taken no tangible steps to offer the groups support.

Capt. Haj Ali said coalition officials, with whom he spoke after the Oct. 2 strike, offered condolences but little in the way of concrete support. Maj. Salih, asked whether he received any promises of support after his group was repeatedly attacked, said: “There is nothing specific.”

Administration officials said they are looking at options to continue to support the moderate opposition. But the officials added that Mr. Obama neither wants a proxy war with Russia nor to let Moscow distract the U.S. from its fight against Islamic State.

The Pentagon, which is trying to stand up a parallel training program to the CIA’s operation, has pledged to defend its rebels should they come under attack from the Assad regime. The Pentagon program is designed to go after Islamic State exclusively. The same level of protection hasn’t been extended to groups supported covertly by the CIA, officials said.

Absent U.S. support, rebel leaders say they would need heavier weapons, including Man-portable air-defense systems, or Manpads, to shoot down Russian aircraft.

The White House has succeeded at keeping Manpads out of Syria since the start of the war because of concerns they could fall into the wrong hands and be used against commercial aircraft in the region and beyond. Some U.S. allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia, have proposed introducing them in the past in a limited way, but the U.S. objected, according to U.S. and Gulf officials.

U.S. officials said Russian attacks could make it harder for the White House to keep antiaircraft weapons out of Syria in the future because rebel groups, left to struggle on their own, may reach outside of approved U.S.-backed channels for supplies.

“These groups are talking about the possibility of introducing Manpads in an uncontrolled way into areas where al Qaeda operates to respond to the Russians since we won’t respond,” said a senior U.S. official. “That’s the nightmare right now.”

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