Moderate Syrian Rebels = The Easter Bunny?

Big Red Car here. Well, it’s football Saturday here in the ATX. Lot of good games to be watched and studied. About 70F right now but going to be high 80’s and sunny all day. Ahh, the ATX!

So The Boss has some experience training soldiers. He’s a VMI graduate and was a professional soldier who actually ran combat arms units in the US and overseas. He knows something about training and building unit cohesion. He actually did it and knows how difficult it truly can be.

Let’s arm the “moderate” Syrian rebels

With all the hoopla about bombing ISIS in Syria — good idea, great idea to bomb their refineries and source of folding money — the entire issue of Syria has bubbled to the surface.

Before we go any further let’s identify a couple of important rub points:

1. Syria is a Russian client state and the Russians are going to be very interested in whatever happens here. The injection of the Russians into the “red line” controversy which backed down the administration from their double secret, pinkie swear promise to bomb Syria if they used chemical weapons was the determining factor of how that all played out. Watch Russia. They are going to be trouble.

2. The Syrian rebellion has been going on for almost three years and it appears that Assad — his family has run the joint for 40 years — is winning. By attacking ISIS which opposes the Assad regime, we are eliminating one of his natural enemies. As Assad said: “How sweet is that?”

3. Our experience with eliminating despots is not that good. We eliminated Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and we ended up with a civil war and a failed state. Getting rid of the despot is only half of the battle.

The battle cry of “arm the moderate Syrian rebels” has a lot of attendant problems in its execution.

Who are the “moderate” Syrian rebels

This week Sec of Def Chuck Hagel — a drowning man, so far beyond his personal abilities and truly overwhelmed (deer in the headlights) as to be sad — was unable to answer who the leader of the moderate rebels might be. This seems a pretty big consideration. The convo went something like this.

Reporter: Sec Hagel, who is the leader of the moderate Syrian rebels?

Sec Hagel: I don’t know.

The Syrian civil war, entering its third year, has not been a breeding ground for moderate anything. They have killed almost 200,000 of their countrymen. They have unleashed chemical weapons on civilians. They have spawned new entities like a rejuvenated Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Khorasan Group (Al Qaeda all stars, not an IT consulting company). Bottom line — what would it take to be called a “moderate” in such a brutal civil war?

Let’s admit to ourselves — the word “moderate” is a word ascribed to this situation for public consumption in the United States and, in particular, to assuage the sensitivities of the Obama administration which doesn’t want to use a more accurate world like “cutthroats” or “scumbags.”

The notion of moderate Syrian rebels competes for bandwidth with the legend of the Easter Bunny. We want to believe but……….


Training individual soldiers is not a difficult task though the folks who supposedly trained the Iraqi army have a lot of ‘splaining to do. ┬áThat didn’t work out the way it was supposed to work out, no?

Army basic training (BCT Basic Combat Training) wherein individual soldier skills are imparted into young men takes ten weeks. In this ten week period, the civilian becomes a neophyte soldier with basic soldiering skills. You can read about it here: Basic Combat Training <<<link

Army advanced individual training (AIT Advanced Individual Training) wherein specific fighting skills are imparted into young men takes another fourteen weeks. You can read about it here: Advanced Individual Training <<<link

Once this training is completed a soldier is then sent to a unit and is trained further in unit operations by the unit. He is the FNG (fucking new guy) and really knows nothing about soldiering. He is just fresh meat and still needs to learn a lot about how a real combat unit operates. The unit training he will undergo includes fire team, squad, platoon, company training and may include battalion, brigade, division level maneuvers. The training never stops.

The Army has an incredible amount of infrastructure, planning, materials and personnel dedicated to turning out soldiers. To duplicate this effort in another country is not the low hurdles. You will also have to train soldiers to make up battlefield losses.

Training soldiers is not the same as standing up an army

What is not addressed here is the creation of an army. It is one thing to train individual soldiers — a young man’s game if ever there was one — but what must also must be done is the creation of a non-commissioned officer corps (sergeants) to actually run the individual units which will compose the army and company grade officers to command the individual fighting units.

Creating effective non-coms and lieutenants and captains is a difficult task. We send prospective lieutenants to places like West Point or VMI for four years and then they go to a basic course and maybe Airborne and Ranger schools. You cannot produce leaders as easily as you can individual soldiers.

The Brits say it takes two generations to make an NCO. Maybe, maybe not but it is not a short endeavor under any circumstances.

The nature of the war

The Syrian army is not the American army but is has the ability to coordinate infantry, armor, artillery and air power. They are fighting a combined arms war and they are essentially winning because ISIS has been distracted into Iraq and we have taken ISIS into our cross hairs.

The moderate Syrian rebels are going to have to be able to shoot, move and communicate to be able to hang with the Syrian army. Remember the enemy always gets a vote and the first casualty upon contact with the enemy is the plan.

It is one thing to train some soldiers. An altogether different thing to create leaders to lead those soldier. Still something else to create combat units which can become an army and defeat the Syrian army.

Training individual soldiers is only one small part of the challenge.

Boots on the ground

An alternative to the arduous task of standing up a cohesive army is the approach which was taken with the Northern Alliance in the early days of Afghanistan — marrying American Special Forces, American air power and effective American fire control (air and artillery) and indigenous riflemen. Still these tribal units had been fighting for years against the Taliban and had the tribal glue to create unit cohesion. They were not a “new” army.

This would entail boots on the ground by American advisors and combat leaders something the President has said will not happen even though no military professional has said that is even remotely possible to win without boots on the ground. This turd in the punchbowl is going to have to be dipped out before we can expect to make any real progress.

The bottom line is this — the concept of training the “moderate” Syrian rebels to defeat the Assad regime is not going to work. The Easter Bunny is not going to become a soldier.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car.