November 12, 2015:
The United States has long been criticized for not having an effective (or any, at times) strategy for dealing with the mess in Syria. Recently the American Secretary of Defense described a new strategy that appears to an improvement but it is unclear if the new “Three Rs” strategy will really make a difference in efforts to deal with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant).
The three Rs stand for Raids, Raqqa and Ramadi. The raids are using a few hundred more SOCOM troops (Special Forces, SEALs and specialized support) to carry out more raids into ISIL territory in Syria and Iraq. This includes hitting Raqqa, the eastern Syrian city which is a provincial capital and the only large city that ISIL controls in Syria. It is also possible to send columns of Kurds south, accompanied by Special Forces and lots of American air support, to threaten Raqqa. That has been tried before and it definitely gets the attention of the ISIL leadership. Ramadi is the Iraq equivalent of Raqqa being the capital of Anbar province in the largely desert western Iraq. There are no Kurds readily available to help take back Ramadi and the Iraqi government is having problems controlling the large number of Iran supported Iraqi Shia militias that have gone west to help retake Ramadi. In theory a dozen or so commando raids in the right places in a short space of time plus a vigorous move towards Raqqa could distract ISIL enough to enable the Iraqis to grab Ramadi.
The Three Rs follows a failed strategy that sought to train and arm a force of over 5,000 carefully selected Syrian rebels. That did not work because too few (as in a few hundred) suitable candidates could be found. It seems that most Syrian rebels now see their uprising as a holy war and are generally supportive of all Islamic terrorists serving as rebels. This is causing all sorts of problems inside Syria and tearing the rebel movement apart with internal feuds. The Kurds, on the other hand, were never very religious (although they are Sunni Moslems) and have proved to be the easiest to train and by far the most effective fighters available. The problem is the Turkey does not approve of anyone training and arming Kurds because for decades Turkish, Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian Kurds have been fighting (sometimes each other) to establish a Kurdish state from Kurdish majority portions of those four countries. The Iraqi and Syrian Kurds insist they have sworn off, for the moment, the “Kurdish State” idea and are intent on destroying ISIL. Turkey is not convinced and reluctantly assists the American efforts to destroy ISIL.
The Iraqi government (dominated by the Iraqi Shia Arab majority) also oppose more autonomy for the Iraqi Kurds in the north. This despite the fact that the most effective Iraqi troops are largely Kurds. So the new American strategy is going to ignore Turkish and Iraqi complaints and give the Kurds all the weapons and training they can use. That might work in the short term but in the long run it will cause problems. Then again anything outsiders do in the Middle East causes long term problems, which is why the Turks have an old saying; “do not involve yourself in the affairs of the Arabs.” This from the people who ruled most of the Middle East for about 500 years.