By Moon Of Alabama
The U.S. has given up on the Fee Syrian Army in the north of Syria :
The United States has stopped paying most of the pro-western rebels fighting in northern Syria and has suspended the delivery of arms to them, rebel commanders told McClatchy Tuesday.
Some of the FSA mercenaries, now no longer getting paid, are joining jihadi groups:
As many as 800 to 1,000 fighters from U.S.-vetted rebel groups already have joined Nusra, ...
The stop of support in the north is confirmed by additional reports. That this is likely real can also be seen in the number of arms video posted. The U.S. gave TOW anti-tank missiles to the mercenaries but demanded video uploads to prove their use. Eliot Higgins, though not always trustworthy, counted these numbers:
TOW videos posted by the opposition by month Apr 9 May 16 Jun 16 Jul 37 Aug 35 Sep 44 Oct 58 Nov 26 Dec 3
The U.S. is still paying for some small FSA groups within Aleppo city but these are now surrounded by the Syrian Arab Army and unlikely to be able to hold their positions. Their hold of Aleppo city is politically symbolic and therefore something the U.S. wants them to keep. It is the reason why the UN envoy is trying to negotiate a ceasefire for Aleppo. Syria and Russia are playing along but Aleppo will likely be completely in government hands before any ceasefire is reached.
It is also noteworthy that some "western" media are no longer friendly with the FSA and that its atrocities are now finally "news": Syrian rebel 'hell cannons' kill 300 civilians: monitoring group
The "rebel" position in the south, supported by the U.S. through Jordan and Israel, is different. There Jabhat al-Nusra is leading a southern attack directed against Damascus disguised under the FSA mantle:
As part of the attempt to surround Damascus, al-Nusra Front was able to continue a simultaneous offensive to the south of the capital. The offensive led to significant advances in Dara’a province, including the taking of the government’s military base in Dara’a city. Because Dara’a borders directly on Damascus province (Rif Dimashq), these advances set up a future offensive into Damascus proper.
The official FSA mercenaries in the south have announced another alliance but this one. like many of the older ones, will fail. The U.S. knows that al-Nusra, al-Qaeda in Syria, is the dominant force in the south and is, unlike in the north, supporting these al-Qaeda affiliates. Colonel Pat Lang remarked
I have been told that the nearly complete collapse of the unicorn army of FSA moderates has caused the US to covertly approach Nusra with a proposal to offer support if Nusra will scale back its IS-like habit of butchering its enemies when they are captured. That would include a more tolerant attitude toward US journalists.
A leopard does not change its spots and Nusra does not stop its beheadings. A video from Sheik Miskeen, a town halfway between Jordan and Damascus which is currently the center of fight in the south, shows dead Syrian soldiers who were beheaded after Nusra, with the help two large suicide vehicle bombs, captured a military housing area.
U.S. support for the Nusra attack in the south is directed by the CIA in Jordan. But the training program in Jordan and the support may also stop soon as the money for these programs is running out. Congress at least no longer supports these "adventures":
As Congress struggles to pass a bill to fund the government for the rest of the year, one curious and significant item was left on the cutting room floor: a request from the Barack Obama administration for $300 million to expand the secret CIA program to arm the “moderate” Syrian rebels.
I expect that the attacks in the south will soon run out of steam. The U.S. knows that its side in the war, the Fee Syrian Army as well as Jabhat al-Nusra, can not win:
In a grim assessment of the U.S.-backed Syrian rebels, a senior State Department official said on Wednesday that the country’s armed opposition will not be able to topple the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad now or in the foreseeable future, despite the existence of a Pentagon program to train and equip 5,000 rebels per year.
The Pentagon is deliberately walking very slow with that train and equip program. It may well end before it achieves any results.
The only enemies left to fight for the Syrian Arab Army are remnants of the FSA/Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State.
The Islamic State has achieved nothing in its campaign on the Kurdish enclave Kobane. The Kurds are holding their positions and while it is sad that the city gets destroyed through the fighting the Islamic State is losing lots of materials and people. The U.S., which is supporting the Kurds in Kobane with a few air attacks, wants to keep it that way. Kobane is used to destroy wave after wave of Islamic State attack groups and to exhaust its reserves. The Islamic State has looked for new targets in east Syria and decided to attack the military airport in Deir Ezzor, held by the Syrian army. Several waves of attacks with suicide bombers and lots of IS infantry have had no success there. Deir Ezzor is well supplied and well defended and will be another point where IS is using up its reserves.
The U.S. has given up on the attacks in north Syria. In the south its support for Jabhat al-Nusra is indefensible on political and moral grounds. It will have to stop before it attracts more public scrutiny. Otherwise some Republicans in Congress may find that direct support for al-Qaeda by the Obama administration is an impeachable offense.
Soon the Islamic State will be the only significant threat left to fight in Syria. But the Islamic State is loosing large parts of its energy (and money) due to heavy losses in fights on several fronts. It is still a serious enemy and may achieve this or that surprise. But I doubt that it is an existential threat to the Syrian government and the Syrian people.