Special note: the above Fox News video, from 2013, references the existence of a US-led training program in Jordan aimed at strengthening the Syrian opposition against Assad, which some have alleged might have equipped ISIS fighters with the tactics they are currently using against the US-trained Iraqi Army.
Iraq has fallen into total disarray, with a rebel group called ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, having conquered broad sections of the nation, along with a significant amount of territory in neighboring Syria. Though the Iraqi military claims to have ISIS contained, clashes are currently taking place within 140 miles of Baghdad. The US is sending ground troops back to Iraq, and officials representing the government of the war-torn nation have asked the US to provide air support against ISIS.
However, is it possible that the very rebels fighting against the US-backed government in Iraq were trained by American forces in an effort to strengthen the Free Syrian Army’s rebellion against Assad in Syria? Back in March of 2013, Reuters reported that the German magazine Der Spiegel published an account by organizers of the Syrian rebellion claiming that US trainers, some wearing uniforms, were seen providing anti-tank training in Jordan to anti-Assad forces. Though the article mentioned that the training program was meant to exclude radicals that might turn against locals in Jordan, it is challenging to run background checks on everyone who joins a rebel group. Also, individuals who seemed ideologically moderate at one time could later on join a group like ISIS, especially considering its escalating momentum.
In January of 2014, a rift formed between members of the Syrian rebellion and ISIS, largely over tactics. However, ISIS has been successful in its military campaign against the Iraqi government, and this has led its ranks to grow. It’s difficult to know whether the rebels allegedly trained by the US in Jordan have since joined ISIS, but The Washington Post is reporting that ISIS just released a new propaganda video touting its American-style military tactics. The video not only shows a capable military force with mature training, but it also contains footage of rebel fighters using an anti-tank guided missile system.
It is tough to conclusively prove whether or not ISIS fighters were the individuals being trained by the US in Jordan. However, the group’s beginnings lie in the Syrian rebellion, and its military tactics look distinctly American. The latest ISIS propaganda video even demonstrates sophisticated anti-tank tactics, which were the focus of the alleged 2013 training session in Jordan. The division between other Syrian rebel groups and ISIS didn’t grow until January of 2014, several months after Der Spiegel‘s report. The Guardian also corroborated Der Spiegel‘s assertions, noting that special operators from the US, UK, and France were working together in Jordan to strengthen the Syrian opposition and that anti-aircraft missiles, like those seen in ISIS’ new propaganda video, were being funneled over the border from Turkey to Syrian fighters. An Associated Press article referenced by CBS News also noted the existence of the training program.
At this point, not enough clear evidence exists to confirm or deny the rumors that the US might have inadvertently provided ISIS with the training to defeat US-trained forces in Iraq. However, this would not be the first time American tactics and weapons have been found on both sides of a conflict. Also, ISIS’ latest propaganda video demonstrates a tactically mature force using anti-tank weapons, which was the specific focus of the alleged training session in Jordan. When the fog of war clears, it is entirely possible that history will reflect that the US inadvertently armed and trained the very opposition group that would later undo all of its efforts to strengthen the government in Iraq.