The Russia-supported operation of the Syrian government forces has almost liberated the second largest city of Aleppo from militants. The victory prompted lame duck President Obama to make a desperate attempt to turn the tide of war.
On December 8, President Barack Obama ordered a waiver of restrictions on military aid for foreign forces and others in Syria. He deemed it «essential to the national security interests» of the US to allow exceptions from provisions of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), which aims to prevent taxpayer money being spent on supporting and arming international militant groups through covert operations and third states.
The memorandum to the US Departments of State and Defense says, «I hereby..determine that the transaction, encompassing the provision of defense articles and services to foreign forces, irregular forces, groups, or individuals engaged in supporting or facilitating ongoing US military operations to counter terrorism in Syria, is essential to the national security interests of the United States».
The president delegates responsibility to the state secretary to work with and report to Congress on weapons export proposals, requiring 15 days of notice before they are authorized. According to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2016, nearly $500 million are allocated to arm and train «moderate rebels» in Syria.
From now on, foreign fighters supporting US efforts in Syria would be excused from restrictions on military assistance once the administration believes «it is essential to the national security». Anyone joining anti-Assad forces can get American arms.
As State Department spokesperson Elizabeth Trudeau stated, «Even if Aleppo falls, certainly the war is not over. But our position has not changed on that».
The news came against the background of talks held between Russia and US foreign chiefs to address the situation in Aleppo. On December 3, State Secretary John Kerry passed on to his Russian counterpart the proposal from Washington that was acceptable for Russia.
However, two days later Washington abruptly withdrew it! «They have withdrawn their document and have a new one. Our initial impression is that this new document backtracks, and is an attempt to buy time for the militants, allow them to catch their breath and resupply», the Russian foreign minister said on December 6.
It’s an open secret that weapons cannot be prevented from getting into wrong hands. It’s also well-known that the very existence of «moderate opposition» fighting the Syria government is questioned. The move paves the way for trafficking weapons to militants and terrorist groups of all kinds under the false pretense of the fight against Islamic State (IS). US-made weapons, including man-portable anti-air missiles, will spread around the world. They can also be used against American military.
It brings to memory the last year’s Amnesty International report saying that much of Islamic State equipment and munitions come from stockpiles captured from the US-allied Iraqi military and Syrian rebels.
In June, 2014 the US-made weaponry fell into IS hands including 2,300 Humvee armored vehicles, at least 40 M1A1 main battle tanks, 74,000 machine guns, and as many as 52 M198 howitzer mobile gun systems, plus small arms and ammunition. Today these weapons are being used against the US and allied forces on the ground in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
Last year, the US government announced the end of the failed program to build an army out of local rebels. After the training was over, the fighters simply went to join the militants groups with the US-made weapons they had been given. The efforts to train a projected 5,400 Syrian infantrymen by the end of 2015 ultimately yielded a force of fewer than 60! Most of them were immediately captured or voluntarily surrendered their US-provided equipment to extremist groups.
There has never been an «opposition moderate group» declaring that its prime goal was fighting IS, not Assad. And the US government has never provided the entire list of the groups it supports. With that said, there is a great probability that the arms supplied by the US will be used to fight the Syrian government and Russian forces.
The president’s decision would lead to an escalation of the conflict, with the US waging a proxy war against Russia, Syria, Iran and other forces allied with Damascus. The escalation may take place very soon. The requirement to give a 15-day notification to Congress will not delay the shipments from European warehouses as Congress is going to be out of session until January. Evidently, the outgoing team is trying to plunge the Trump’s administration into a deeper commitment to an unwinnable proxy war.
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The president’s decision has grave implications. Taking this move at the time Secretary Kerry is engaged in talks with Minister Lavrov is like carrying fire in one hand and water in the other. The outgoing administration has demonstrated once again it is an unreliable partner not to be trusted. And it has no strategy neither in Syria, nor the Middle East.
This policy can delay the end of the Syria conflict but it cannot change the tide. The overthrow of Syria President Assad looks more like a pipe dream. The extremist groups are on the retreat everywhere in Syria, except Raqqa where the US-led offensive against IS has become a drawn-out operation without any visible success. The same thing applies to the operation to seize the Iraqi city of Mosul.
There is still enough time to supply militants with weapons till Donald Trump takes office on January 20. His statement give ample reason to believe he will out an end to this kind of military aid but the damage will be done to make Mr. Obama remembered for his «legacy».