While the U.S. was busy color-coding rebel brigades, Russia invaded Syria

The Wall Street Journal reports: British and U.S. military leaders first discussed the idea of creating a rebel army in Syria in late 2011, but didn’t have political backing to proceed. Two years later, Mr. Obama authorized a limited arm-and-train program to battle the regime, led by the CIA.

To identify rebel brigades eligible to receive support, the Americans created a color-coded ranking system. Green dots were assigned to brigades deemed acceptable to all parties. Yellow dots went to borderline groups. Red dots were for radicals. Since the system’s inception, the U.S. and its allies have continued to squabble over which groups belonged in which categories, officials said.

The vetting process set up by the Americans stunned partners in the region. They complained that the White House’s risk-averse approach put U.S.-backed rebels at a disadvantage to the Assad regime, whose Russian and Iranian allies moved more swiftly and decisively.

“The Americans color-coded; The Russians invaded,” a senior Turkish official said. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: After acknowledging that only four or five American-trained Syrian rebels were actually in the fight there, Pentagon officials said last week that they were suspending the movement of new recruits from Syria to Turkey and Jordan for training. The program suffered from a shortage of recruits willing to fight the Islamic State instead of the army of President Bashar al-Assad, a problem Mr. Obama noted at a news conference on Friday.

“I’m the first one to acknowledge it has not worked the way it was supposed to,” he said. “A part of the reason, frankly, is because when we tried to get them to just focus on ISIL, the response we get back is, ‘How can we focus on ISIL when, every single day, we’re having barrel bombs and attacks from the regime?’ ” [Continue reading…]

Rosa Brooks writes: Iraqis, Afghans, and Syrians are just as brave as Americans: In fact, residents of all these states have endured vastly more hardship and bloodshed over the last decade than most Americans see in a lifetime. They’ll fight, and fight fiercely, for the causes they hold dear. When their interests and priorities (as they understand them, not as we understand them) align with ours, train-and-equip missions can be extraordinary successful. But when we ignore the interests and priorities of our partners — through our own ignorance of culture and history, or through a paternalistic conviction that we understand what’s good for them better than they do — train-and-equip missions are doomed to end in failure and humiliation. [Continue reading…]

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