The Special Forces group that ousted the Taliban from Afghanistan in 2001 is preparing to deploy to Jordan to train Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State, but many of the U.S. military’s most elite warriors have a gnawing fear that those efforts may be too little, too late.
Four years after the start of the uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, the Army’s 5th Special Forces Group is getting ready to establish a multinational special operations task force in Jordan to train and equip Syrian rebel forces that the United States deems “moderate” — which means allied with neither the Islamic State nor al Qaeda’s local affiliate, al-Nusra Front.
But daunting challenges lie ahead for 5th Group. They include finding and vetting enough moderate rebels to make a difference on the battlefield; potential friction with the CIA, which has its own rebel training program going on in Jordan; the Obama administration’s refusal to let special operations forces fight alongside the rebel forces they have trained; and a confusing chain of command that none of the relevant American military headquarters seem willing or able to explain.
To complicate matters further, the general in charge of the training mission in Jordan is considered one of the special operations community’s most capable senior officers, but as things stand he is scheduled to rotate out of the country just as the training effort gets underway.
The stakes are enormously high for Washington and its allies. The Obama administration has publicly vowed to keep U.S. forces out of the line of fire in the campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, in part to guard against the prospect of more American fatalities in a conflict the U.S. public had overwhelmingly turned against in recent years. The White House is instead hoping that members of some of the military’s most secretive and elite units can rebuild the shattered Iraqi army and stand up a force of tribal militias willing to fight the Islamic State, while simultaneously helping to train and equip a new rebel force in Syria. Failure in either location is likely to embolden the United States’ enemies in the region — Iran, the Assad regime, the Islamic State, and al-Nusra Front — and seriously damage American prestige. (Read more from “The Pentagon Ups the Ante in Syria Fight” HERE)