“Pigs! Crusaders!”: US-Backed Fundamentalist Militias drive US Commandos out of al-Ray, Syria

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

As Raf Sanchez of The Telegraph writes, fundamentalist militiamen of the US-backed Free Syrian Army chased US commandos out of al-Ray in Syria near the Turkish border, cursing them as “pigs” and “crusaders” and asserting that the US is attempting a military occupation of Syria.

Some 250 US troops are embedded with the leftist Kurdish militia, the YPG, and these fundamentalist Arab Syrian fighters have tangled with the Kurds over the latter’s hope of establishing a contiguous Kurdish mini-state in norther Syria.

Turkey’ has intervened in northern Syria, ostensibly against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), but in reality to stop the Syrian Kurds from achieving their hoped-for mini-state or Rojava.

At one point US spec ops troops embedded with the Kurds were caught on camera wearing YPG insignia, which includes a hammer and sickle.

The pro-Kurdish press is puzzled as to why the US would risk such a two-faced policy in Syria.

It is urging Washington to ally directly with Kurdish Syrian rebels.

The contradictory US policies in Syria, of backing leftist Kurds when convenient and of supporting local fundamentalists on the other hand. Both are theoretically opposed to Daesh, but neither has exhibited either fear or loathing of Daesh sufficient to make them fight the hard line organization systematically in al-Raqqa province, its base.

The Kurdish YPG did fight Daesh and take the city of Manbij away from the terrorist organization. But this fighting was in furtherance of the Rojava project.

Related video:

RT America: “American troops flee Syrian town after threats from US-backed rebels”

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21 Responses

  1. Expect this to unfold as an illustration of yesterday’s discussion on facts. The RT report sees this as ’embarrassing’ for the US but you can bet the bottom $ that is not the way it will emerge from the DOD or the DOS because the circumstances will not provoke the US to feel ‘awkward, self-conscious or ashamed’. At most it will evoke an Olympian ‘regrettable’ with the non-explicit implication of fault in those on the ground who fail to understand the US purpose to secure humanitarian aid for the starving Syrians and stop Assad from bombing civilians.

    Not that he was personally responsible, but ever since Freud there has evolved a grey area between those extremes that had ever satisfied the interpretation of events; either the boy stole the loaf or he didn’t; nothing to do with his hunger or the moral condition of his mother. This grey area soon found it’s way into literature and other art forms until the earlier extremes more or less disappeared beyond the horizon. Few today are aware of the deep moral attitudes that define classical literature. Later this grey was reinforced by physics with concepts like ‘relativity’, ‘chaos theory’ and the ‘uncertainty principle’. Today the media and entertainment industry wallow in it, sailing ever closer to what would have been regarded as negative, and the consequence, observed from the outside, can be seen as a morally rootless state, constrained, if at all, by peer pressure only.

    • It’s hardly “fleeing” if the folks you allegedly came to help tell you to leave – and you do so.

      To me, it’s more indicative of why the US should not unilaterally get involved in Syria. If the UN authorizes a combined humanitarian relief mission, fine. However, the US invasion of Iraq (and the post-invasion dystopian results) permanently destroyed the idea of the US as WW2-style “liberators” in the minds of everyone except the American people.

      This is the real problem: the average US citizen has been raised on the idea that we’re the brave WW2 GIs, whoever we’re supporting are French Resistance fighters, and our opponents of the day are cartoon Nazis. The rest of the world increasingly sees us as just another large power seeking to impose our will on them by coercion and/or military force.

      This dichotomy causes many problems: the US public wants its government to stop the bad guys doing bad things, and can’t understand why the folks fighting the bad guys don’t necessarily want the US to get involved.

  2. The laughably bad Lizzie Phelan toots Putins horn and calls this Americas shame. It may be so, but lets see how much better Russian troops would fare in Syria.

    • True enough. RT is little more than a propaganda arm of the Kremlin – albeit in a very well produced, shiny package. Give the Russian counterpart of Roger Ailes credit for putting on a good show. Unfortunately, it’s just that – a show.

      • Unfortunately, RT is a more objective, reliable source of information than the old-line MSM, especially the New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC, ABC, CNN, and Fox. It isn’t a propaganda machine like Radio Free Europe. It’s a commercial enterprise but more like the BBC, getting government funding rather than being captured by big advertisers (as NPR is).

        • Laughable! Radio Free Europe is far more objective in its news reports than RT, which is primarily a propaganda voice for Russia.

  3. What can the United States show for the billions of dollars spent on the so-called “moderate opposition”? It was clear from the start that there was a continuum and a conveyor belt ranging from “moderate opposition” to “moderate terrorists”, to “al-Nusra Front”, right up to ISIS. One group morphed into another and the weapons and the funds were handed over to those higher up in the chain of barbarity. The aim was to topple President Assad by any means possible, and the rest was window dressing.

  4. Body armor, impenetrable sunglasses, gadgets galore — geez, US soldiers look like alien monsters compared to the natives of the places America sends troops into. No wonder we can’t “win hearts and minds.” Could we project a MORE menacing image?

  5. I do not have the answer, maybe you do, Juan, but I am wondering to what extent this weird conflict between two US-backed groups represents a split between the Pentagon and the CIA in terms of Syrian policy. Thus it is DOD special ops who are supposedly embedded with the Kurds, while I have occasionally seen that CIA backs the Syrian Free Army, but I could be wrong. Maybe they also have DOD backing, but other branches than those backing the Kurds. In any case, SecDef Carter was the one throwing the last roadblocks in the way of the US-Russian truce deal. I am wondering if this reflects DOD unhappiness with the Russians and Turks backing the Free Syrian Army against the Kurds with the Pentagon embeds. Anybody know?

  6. One more example, if any were needed, of the folly of the U.S. getting involved in Syria in the first place. We have no interests in Syria, and were Assad to fall, his replacement would likely be worse in terms of U.S. interests. We should have told the rebels to begin with not to expect U.S. assistance in their campaign against Assad.

    Nevertheless, for RT to crow about this incident is laughable, given Russia’s active support of Assad and his vicious bombing campaign that has created so many displaced persons and refugees. Perhaps Ms. Phelan should be pressed to explain why Russia is not taking in the bulk of the refugees it has so callously helped to create. Let’s not condemn the EU or the US regarding refugee acceptance before holding Russia and Putin up to world condemnation for helping to create them and then refusing to take any in.

    • The US does have interests. Assad is opposed to Israel (in extension against the US as well) and allied with Iran and Hezbollah. Removing him would break the Iran-Hezbollah link and threat to Israel. The US simultaneously hopes to replace him with a somewhat pro-US and Israel neutral government (how this is possible with Saudi and Turkey backed fundamentalists or not so moderate ‘moderates’, is anyone’s guess).

      • Syria has always opposed Israel. But for 45 years the U.S. has managed its interests in the Near East with the Assad family in power, first Havez then Bashar, without any interference to speak of. Were Assad to be replaced, it would almost certainly be by something far worse in terms of U.S. interests. Our interests are best served by not getting involved in attempting regime change.

    • William, America does have interests in Syria.

      – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Qatar want pipelines from the Persian Gulf across Iraq and Syria to Europe. This makes more money for them, and helps reduce the EU’s reliance on Russian natural gas.

      – Plus it allows the GCC dictatorships to undercut gas prices by Iran and extract more, more quickly from the Persian Gulf fields that the GCC shares with Iran. Anything anti-Iran is good for the neocons who run America’s foreign policy.

      – It’s striking how the pipelines never get mentioned by the press.

      – I’ll agree that based upon the US proclamations it doesn’t seem like the US has any interests in Syria. The US never talks about its goals, or who would run Syria if Assad left tomorrow. Any astute observer knows that there are no moderates who are in a position to take over. The result most likely would be a Wahhabi dictatorship that will export radical terrorism throughout the region (I predict Lebanon is next), but one that would allow the pipelines, oppose Iran, and generally do what America wants.

      • “The result most likely would be a Wahhabi dictatorship that will export radical terrorism throughout the region (I predict Lebanon is next), but one that would allow the pipelines, oppose Iran, and generally do what America wants.”

        First, as has been demonstrated over the last few years, the interests of Saudi Arabia and the United States are often not in alignment.

        Second, were Assad to be removed, the result would likely not be a Wahhabi dictatorship. The result would much more likely be chaos on the order of Libya, an ungovernable, failed state.

        Third, to state that the resulting government would likely “export radical terrorism throughout the region” but “would generally do what America wants” is so self-contradictory it does not require comment.

        • @William: you say “to state that the resulting government would likely “export radical terrorism throughout the region” but “would generally do what America wants” is so self-contradictory it does not require comment.”

          Huh? That is only contradictory if you assume that the US does not accept the spread of radical Sunni dictatorships in the region. You apparently see it that way.

          I don’t. The US supported the coup in Egypt which installed a Sunni dictatorship. The US supported the brutal oppression of the Arab Spring in Bahrain by a Sunni dictatorship. The US created a vacuum in Libya and knows it will be filled by a Sunni dictatorship. Likewise in Syria.

          The US Secretary of State said in a secret memorandum that donors in Saudi Arabia still “constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” and that “it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority”.

          Yet…the US considers Saudi Arabia to be America’s closest ally in the region; approved the largest arm sales in history to Saudi Arabia; and stands by while Saudi and the GCC fund radicals throughout the Mideast, Central Asia and beyond. The President hasn’t so much as made a speech against the funding of radical schools and mosques around the world.

          William, I think you need to examine your premises.

  7. These are the facts, truth, about this incident. The Turkish army with some help from the Free Syrian Army liberated its southern borders from ISIS. Free Syrian army is a coalition of various Syrian Arab groups. Not all of them are fundamentalists. Syrian Arabs have suffered a lot from ISIS and YPG. YPG with the help of Americans moved into Arabic areas of Syria. Kicked out the Arab population and moved Kurds into their houses trying to assimilate these villages. After Turkey’s successful liberation of northern Syria, American government have decided to join the Turkish army and gave air support to the Turkish army. As a part of this venture America decided to send in 260 American ground troops to Cerablus ( largest town liberated by the Turks). Luckily they went together with the Turkish ground troops. The Arab population wanted kick the Americans out. Turkish army intervened and escorted them back to secure Turkish soil. That is the truth about this incident.

  8. U.S. is incapable of coherent action in Syria or by that matter in all of the Middle East and also with its «pivoting » to the Far East.

  9. I didn’t think America’s ME misadventure could get any crazier, but now I see it can and it had. I mean we’re allied with the Turks, the YPG and the FSA, who are fighting one another. We’ve even toyed with the idea of fighting Daesh with the Russians. I’m closer to the conclusion that the U.S.’ penchant for war is pathological or just that it’s serving its corporate masters. Is ther any rhyme or reason to this madness?!

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