It would appear that the Pentagon does not know where the majority of the Iraqi and Syrian recruits trained to combat the Islamic State have ended up. The modern-day proxy war in the Middle East has become a bottomless pit for the American taxpayers’ money, with entirely mediocre results. After having spent $42 million on training and arming the Iraqi army, who at the sight of ISIS soldiers made a run for it last summer, now the Obama administration has been given the green light to spent further considerable figures to train and arm Syrian and Iraqi militia with similar results.
What has happened to the disappearing recruits? This is a question not only for Washington, but also for all the countries in the great coalition and NATO. Furthermore, the problem is not only financial but also strategic. In fact, it would appear that the recruits are prepared to combat the Assad regime but are reticent about fighting against ISIS. The majority of future soldiers are Sunnis, people who have been oppressed by Assad’s Shiite regime and who do not see the Islamic State as an enemy. This is certainly a big problem, also because it is likely that the recruits who have “vanished” into thin air have ended up in the ranks of the Islamic State, which has openly declared war on the Syrian and Iraqi Shiite governments. Basically, we are training our enemies.
History repeats itself. The mujahideen in Afghanistan, after having been trained and financed to combat the Soviets, turned against the West following their defeat of Moscow. The current proxy war in the Middle East, however, is infinitely more complex than the anti-Soviet jihad. There were once just two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, now there are many, too many, and money flows more profusely than blood.
Another significant problem is the position of the Kurds in the war against ISIS. After the military skirmishes and the tensions created in recent weeks between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, the Americans thought it wise to turn over to Kurdistan the wife of Abu Sayyaf, a former member of Saddam Hussein’s army who is thought to be the strategic brain of ISIS. This is an act that legitimized the “semi-state,” certainly angering Ankara.
After having interrogated the Iraqi national for 2 months, Washington decided that she should be dealt with by Kurdistan. This decision left everyone a little speechless and reveals the legal difficulties for the United States in managing this war. In fact, America did not know what to do with Umm Sayyaf; they could not take her to Guantanamo, nor imprison her in the United States and they did not want to return her to the government in Baghdad, which they clearly do not trust, so their only option was to turn her over to Kurdistan.
In the meantime, ISIS continues its march towards political control of the region and the Islamic world. A year on from the start of the air campaign, the territory held by the Islamic State has grown rather than decreased; in North Africa, the Sahel, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Caucasia and Southeast Asia, the black flag of the Caliphate has not only appeared, but an increasing number of Islamic groups have adopted it.
The behavior of the various Islamic countries involved in the proxy war, both the Shiite countries, like Iran, and the Sunnis, like Saudi Arabia, continues to be largely ambiguous. All this is dragging bordering countries, such as Turkey, into the conflict.
Therefore, the option of using armed forces, which costs the western taxpayers a large amount of money, does not work. Bear in mind that even us Italians, although we do not officially arm or train recruits, are paying indirectly for the failure of this policy, and we do so through the ransoms paid to bring home our compatriots who end up in the hands of armed groups that follow ISIS. In this scorching hot summer, however, no one feels like dealing with this problem. It will be spoken about in autumn, during the American electoral campaign. That is when the debate will intensify.