Days after a new contingent of 75 graduates of the U.S. train-and-equip program for Syrian rebels traveled to Aleppo, reports emerged yesterday that many of those rebels had defected or surrendered their weapons to Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate. The collaboration with Jabhat al-Nusra comes despite a thorough vetting process that has hindered U.S. efforts to find recruits for the program. Many of the rebels belong to Division 30, which was attacked by and later agreed to a pact with Jabhat al-Nusra after the first tranche of U.S.-trained rebels were deployed to Syria earlier this summer.
The latest setback to the train-and-equip mission comes as the United States tries to grapple with a recent buildup of Russian forces near Latakia and a push for diplomacy from the United Nations. U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is scheduling meetings with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to discuss a way forward. Secretary of State John Kerry downplayed concerns yesterday about Russia’s military presence, saying that, “For the moment it is the judgment of our military and experts that the level and type represents basically force protection.” This has not stopped U.S. partners from expressing their concern, and Turkey has reportedly cited the new Russian forces when pressuring the United States to implement a safe zone.
Yemeni President Returns to Aden
Six months after fleeing the country ahead of advances by Houthi rebels, Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi returned to Aden yesterday. Members of his government returned to the city several weeks ago after it was captured by anti-Houthi fighters backed by a Saudi-led intervention force, though many security concerns — illustrated by a spate of assassinations — remain. Hadi is expected to stay in Aden to celebrate Eid al-Adha before flying to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly.
New from FP: Tune in to the new Global Thinkers podcast, just released this morning! FP Story Editor Amanda Silverman has a conversation with FP contributor Elizabeth Dickinson and 2013 Global Thinker, journalist, and activist Farea Al-Muslimi. They discuss the ongoing conflict in Yemen, the reach of Riyadh in the Middle East, and how the West can pave a way forward. Listen and subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher today: http://atfp.co/1K7nhrI
- A U.S. drone strike killed two suspected members of al-Qaeda in Yemen’s Marib province.
- The Islamic State executed nine men and a boy on suspicion of their being gay in the towns of Rastan and Hreita.
- The Turkish government has begun enforcing laws to restrict the movement of Syrian refugees; the actions seem aimed to prevent refugees from participating in a sit-in along the Turkish-Greek border at Edirne.
- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned of violence spreading if conflict at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem does not cease; “It’s extremely dangerous. We don’t want it to continue and (if it did) the alternative would be chaos or an intifada (uprising) that we don’t want,” he told reporters at a press conference.
- Egyptian satirist Ali Salem, author of the play “School of the Troublemakers” and the autobiographical book “A Drive to Israel,” has died at the age of 79.
Arguments and Analysis
“Yemen conflict: Gulf states should overcome pride and advance solutions” (Sultan Barakat, Markaz)
“The solution to the challenge of Yemen remains a genuine offer to its people of future membership in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This would invert the pyramid of power in the relationships between the Gulf states and Yemen and give voice to the millions of Yemenis at the bottom of the pyramid, many of whom have family living and working in GCC countries already and share the aspiration of one day belonging to a prosperous regional structure. The concrete prospect of joining the GCC would work wonders in terms of driving forward constructive local politics, much as the prospect of joining the EU encouraged the Balkan countries to pursue alternatives to civil strife and local petty politics. This, in the long run, is the best path to sustainable peace in the country.”
“Why the U.S. (still) can’t train the Iraqi military” (Caitlin Talmadge and Austin Long, Monkey Cage)
“Although it is true that recent U.S. efforts may have yielded some tactical improvements in Iraqi forces, these have been limited at best. More importantly, social science research on military effectiveness suggests that these gains are unlikely to translate into the larger operational and strategic military successes that the administration’s ‘Iraq-first’ approach against the Islamic State militant group requires. This is mainly because the underlying problems with the Iraqi security forces are political. The regime in Baghdad has little interest in building the neutral, nonsectarian professional army that the United States has long wanted to create, and this fundamental clash of objectives, common in instances of security forces assistance, has produced serious obstacles to the Iraqi combat effectiveness needed to push back the Islamic State. Furthermore, the United States has relatively little leverage to pressure Baghdad into conforming to its wishes, in part because it lacks a credible exit option and in part because Iraq can turn to Iran as an alternative patron.”
-J. Dana Stuster
OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images