The horrendous emergence of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the unending Syrian crisis have brought the United States (US) in limelight once again. The US administration has opted a challenging policy to counter two threats at the same time i.e. ISIL and Bashar al Assad. Interestingly, the US policy towards Syria, that includes attempts to overthrow Bashar al Assad regime, is identical with its policy towards Afghanistan during Afghan War in 1978. The war in Afghanistan had unpredicted consequences after the withdrawal of Soviet Union, leading later to the formation of Taliban government. Now, one can argue that if the US keeps pursuing this old tested policy in Syria and patronize militants against the regime, will Syria face the same fate as that of Afghanistan?
The US covert operation in Afghanistan, also known as Operation Cyclone, was one of the important reasons behind the collapse of Soviet Union. The US with the help of its allies patronized Afghan Mujahedeen against then communist regime. The US spent almost around 7.4 billion dollars in executing its covert operation. The long civil war resulted in the ouster of communist regime and Soviet troops from Afghanistan.
Arguably, the subsequent rampant militancy in Afghanistan is the byproduct of Operation Cyclone because the US ignored the political forces (unarmed groups) during civil war and patronized militants by providing weapons and training. As a result, the militants outdid political forces and toppled the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani.
While countering the ongoing challenges in the Middle East, President Obama, in his 11 September 2014 speech, announced his framework to degrade ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Particularly in Syria, he vowed to support rebel groups which are fighting against ISIL and Asaad. He stated that:
[blockquote style=”2″]We have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I call on Congress again to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters.” [/blockquote]
It is quite noticeable that in his speech he did not mention the name of any opposition group in Syria. Moreover, whether the US assistance would be given to political forces or to the militant groups was also unclear. Despite uncertainty, Obama administration approved 500 million dollars aid to ‘rebels’ without specifying any group.
According to reports, there are four mainstream political groups and 22 identified militant groups actively operating in Syria. Moreover, some of the militant groups are affiliated with or supporting one or the other political group. For example, National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces enjoys the support of Free Syrian Army (FSA), a militant group. As a matter of fact, militant organizations in Syria outnumber the political ones.
Now, another flustering thing would be the post-Assad policy of the US. If the US leaves Syria without putting an end to the militancy, its outcome could be worse than that of Afghanistan because of the worse state of militancy in Syria. Moreover, the huge presence of militants raises further questions. Will the militants simply surrender and throw away their arms after Assad’s exit? What will happen if militants refuse to revert? What will happen if they form a government as did Taliban in Afghanistan? The answers to these questions are still uncertain.
Policymakers should consider the fact that patronizing a group with arms can have devastating results. The emergence of ISIL would be apt to discuss in this regard as an example of an armed organization which was patronized by regional powers and later became a threat to a state and even the whole region. It would be a mammoth task for the US to restore peace and stability in Syria since it is leading from front. To avoid making another Afghanistan, the fall of Assad should not be the only aim but who will rule Syria after Assad should be the main focused of the policymakers. Otherwise, history may repeat itself.
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