U.S. shelves its $500M Syrian rebel army — sees Syrian Kurds as a more reliable fighting partner

The Daily Beast reports: The Obama administration is still publicly counting on a $500 million rebel army to beat ISIS in Syria. But privately, the Pentagon brass long ago moved past its own proxy force, The Daily Beast has learned. They’ve found another group to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State instead.

In recent weeks, the handful of fighters in the administration-backed rebel army — the so-called “New Syrian Force” — have been killed, kidnapped, or fallen off the proverbial radar. But the Pentagon maintained a brave face, even after these 54 fighters (out of what was supposed to be a total of 15,000) were decimated by Islamist attacks. “We continue to see volunteers want to be a part of this program,” Air Force Colonel Pat Ryder, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters Friday.

It’s a public stance that has left many in the administration and in the defense establishment scratching their heads.

“I don’t understand why we are still training, other than to inoculate criticism. … [The administration] cannot admit it is a complete disaster,” said one senior defense adviser familiar with the U.S. approach. Even after the U.S.-trained fighters vanished, “there was no receptivity to new ideas.”

But what Ryder didn’t say is that, in the eyes of the administration, a better force had emerged — already trained, competent, organized — that posed little risk of abandoning the fight or worse yet, switching sides. They are the Syrian Kurdish militia — the Popular Protection Units or YPG, by their Kurdish initials. And they have successfully wrestled Syrian territory out of ISIS’s hands.

“We knew it would be a challenge but we didn’t expect them to confront the fight they did,” said a second senior defense official, referring to the New Syrian Force. On the other hand, “the YPG is the most effective fighting force in Syria.”

According to one group, the YPG has so far reclaimed at least 11 villages from ISIS, including in the Syrian city of Kobani, one of the biggest victories in the year-long campaign. And in June, the YPG regained control of the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad, cutting off a key ISIS conduit to weapons and supplies. Like the New Syrian Force, the YPG can call in coalition airstrikes as needed.

Along with hoping nascent Arab fighters can take on ISIS, the U.S. is now keen to work alongside as many as 50,000 proven Kurdish fighters. [Continue reading…]

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