US Centcom Commander in Syria to Coordinate Kurds, Arabs against ISIL

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Robert Burns of AP reported on the visit inside Syria of the head of the US Middle East Command (Centcm), Army Gen. Joseph Votel, to assess the progress in US training of the Syrian Democratic Forces division. It is said to comprise 25,000 Kurdish fighters of the leftist YPG or People’s Protection Units along with 5,000 or 6,000 Arab fighters allied with the Kurds against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL).

A few dozen US troops are on the ground there, training the SDF, but the latter complain that Washington has provided them with no medium or heavy weaponry.

The US press pool was instructed not to say in what kind of aircraft Votel arrived or where exactly he met with the SDF, but the Arabic press is saying it was at Kobane, the largely Kurdish town that US air support helped save from deadly Daesh assaults.

The pro-Muqtada al-Sadr Iraqi news site, Nahrainet.net, denounced Votel’s visit as a clear violation of Syrian sovereignty, saying the US had declined to coordinate the visit with the legitimate Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. The site also accused the US of supporting, not just the leftist Kurds and their allies, but also hard line Salafi groups like the Army of Islam and the Freemen of Syria; it even said US support extended to the al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front (this is not true), and that Saudi Arabia and Turkey were also behind the Salafis.

The Mahdi Army or Peace Brigades of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are fighting as a militia in Syria on the side of the government of Bashar al-Assad against the Salafis.

Votel’s visit, contrary to what Nahrainet says, had nothing to do with the Salafi groups. Rather, his 11 hours inside Syria were spent with the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are ideologically as far to the left as the Salafis are to the Right. It is in fact a remarkable development that the US should be putting its hopes for defeat of Daesh in Kurdish militias that were more or less Communists during the Cold War. In the post-Soviet period they have evolved in an anarchistic direction and could be called post-communist. The mixture of anarchism and socialism makes them sound like the Syndicalists of the early 20th century, alongside whom George Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War.

Votel’s visit was likely in preparation for a new, major campaign against Daesh, perhaps even an assault on Raqqa, the capital of the phony caliphate. The US appears to be eager to have the opposition militias, including Salafis, take and hold as much territory in Syria as they can before a permanent ceasefire sets in. Otherwise, there is a danger that with Russian backing the al-Assad regime could roll up a lot of the rebel forces and so reestablish its stability.

Russia is also friendly with the Syrian Kurds, so some of Washington’s new haste to deploy the SDF against Daesh may derive from fear that otherwise they might go to Russia for backing.

While the Obama administration’s initial commitments inside Syria were small, when you have a situation where the Centcom commander is illegally sneaking into another country to consult with 31,000 US-backed local troops, the potential for mission creep and troop escalation is serious.

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Related video:

AFP from last Month: “Syria Kurds train new army to protect ‘federal region'”

7 Responses

  1. America is helping the Kurdish people and fighters whilst the Turks, who are also best pals with the Americans, are bombing those same Kurdish people to bits. Its a mad place out there but even madder, the Turks are busy arming the ISIS mob at the same time as the Americans and Kurds are trying to eliminate them! The Americans, we British and parts of the EU membership have created this hornets nest in the first place and we are in the midst of the swarm flailing about with no kind of coherent strategy of any kind. It seems to me the Syrian government with the help of the Russians are the only players who have a real sense of purpose. Get rid of all the terrorists in Syria including the moderate terrorists and imported mercenaries and put the Country back under the legitimate government of Assad. One may not think he has a legitimate mandate to govern, but he has as much right as any of the other lunatics out there including the head chopping friends of America and we British.

  2. I think I’ve got. The US is training The Syrian Democratic Force comprised of Kurdish and leftist Peoples Protection Units along with 5000 to 6000 Arab fighter allied with the Kurds but the US has provided them with no heavy weaponry.

    The US is also accused of supporting hard line Salafi groups like the Army of Islam and the Freemen of Syria; it even said US support extended to the al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front and that Saudi Arabia and Turkey were also behind the Salafis.

    Then we have the Mahdi Army or Peace Brigades of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who are fighting as a militia in Iraq on the side of the government of Bashar al-Assad against the Salafis.

    Let us not forget….there is a danger that with Russian backing the al-Assad regime could roll up a lot of the rebel forces and so reestablish its stability.

    Russia is also friendly with the Syrian Kurds, so some of Washington’s new haste to deploy the SDF against Daesh may derive they might go to Russia for backing.

    Thank You Dr. Cole… piece of cake.

  3. “The Mahdi Army or Peace Brigades of Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are fighting as a militia in Iraq on the side of the government of Bashar al-Assad against the Salafis.”

    In that sentence, do you mean to say inside Syria rather than inside Iraq?

  4. Perhaps General Votel can bring the same brilliant success to Syria that Generals Petraeus and MacChrystal brought to Afghanistan.

  5. This US obsession with Assad is increasingly bizarre. The US appears to have lost sight of the fact that one unfortunate intervention does not simply replace the one before, they become cumulative in the global mind. It’s as if Obama et al are allowing veil after veil to float away, exposing purposes ever further from the well being of the Syrian people, avowed humanitarian priorities, or even democracy. Had this Orwellian titled ‘Centcom Commander’ informed the Syrian government of his desire to visit, it is likely permission would have been denied. True, but many see it as a further example of US disregard for other nations’ sovereignty. Either nations respect each others sovereignty or to all intents and purposes they are at war.

    But Grandmother! What big teeth you have,” said Little Red Riding Hood.

    “The better to eat you with, my dear,” roared the wolf

  6. ¿From whence the image of a Kurdish infantryman training green grass? Are we receiving the entire story?

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