The United States will be supplying a select group of Syrian militias with radios so that they can call in air strikes. The military has a good reason for doing so too, when they supplied Kurdish rebels with radios to call in strikes against ISIS the program turned out to be an overwhelming success.
This time around, however, the risks will be higher. As the United States moves deeper and deeper into Syria the risks of getting directly embroiled in the Syrian civil war will only increase. As of right now the US is planning to train troops and use them to attack the Islamic State, but whether or not Syrian regime forces will be targeted remains unknown.
At the moment military lawyers are actually debating whether or not American military jets would have the legal authority to intervene and attack regime forces should the American supported troops come under attack. Since the United States is not technically at war with the Syrian regime, it would appear to lack the legal authority to carry out strikes.
Syrian militias: Program will be part of a larger training effort
The United States is hoping to erect a military force in Syria that will be capable of taking on ISIS. Right now ISIS outnumbers the more moderate Syrian militias, and likely could even challenge Assad’s regime forces. ISIS is now estimated to number at least 20,000 strong, with the bulk of their troops hailing from across North Africa and the Middle East.
Even with US training and air support, Syria’s moderate militias will likely not be able to match ISIS or the Assad regime, at least not any time soon. If the US can use the moderate militias to surround ISIS with enemies on all fronts, however, it may be possible to slowly chip away at the edges of the self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate.
The CIA has been providing guns and limited training to moderate Syrian rebels since 2013. How, however, the U.S. military will be taking a more direct role and is in the process of establishing training camps in Jordan and Turkey. Training is set to begin in Jordon in mid to late March. The eventual goal is to field a well-trained force that is at least 5,000 strong.
Training rebels comes with risks
When the United States equipped and trained Kurdish Peshmerga forces, the military faced much less of a challenge. The Kurdish forces were already well-trained and capable of acting as a cohesive unit. Their primary enemy was clear: ISIS, and the battle lines in and around Kobani were well defined.
The Syrian moderates, however, are not nearly as cohesive of a unit. While moderate rebels may be united against both ISIS and Assad’s regime forces, there are still divisions and a lack of coordination within the ranks of the moderates themselves. This will make it more difficult to safely coordinate air strikes.
Further, while Kobani had all but been abandoned by the time the U.S. started its air strikes, moderate rebels will be operating in more heavily populated areas. The risk of civilians being caught up in the cross fire will be greatly increased. And it’ll only take one incident of a civilian target being hit to cast a huge black eye on the entire program and strategy.
And how can the U.S. ensure that air strikes aren’t being called in against Assad regime forces? Military lawyers are already coming to the conclusion that the US lacks the authority to strike at Assad directly. If Assad’s forces are hit, there’s a risk that the U.S. could be drawn into another regional conflict.