Major losses on both the Iraqi and Syrian sides of the ISIS conflict emerged over the weekend, with ISIS routing a pro-Iraqi govt Sunni tribe and massacring hundreds of them, while Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s wing in Syria, forced a key US-allied moderate rebel faction to surrender.
The Pentagon is trying to downplay the problems, despite these both being clearly huge defeats for their strategy in the ever-escalating war, and is mostly falling back on semantic arguments to deflect concerns.
“If they join the Nusra Front, the Nusra Front is not a moderate organization. So therefore they are not moderate either,” insisted Pentagon spokesman Steve Warren of the defeated Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF).
Yet the SRF didn’t willingly join Nusra. Rather they were completely clobbered by them and unconditionally surrendered, turning over all their US-made weapons and armor to Nusra.
The Pentagon may want to split hairs here, but the SRF was awash in US weaponry and was repeatedly touted by the administration as one of those “vetted, moderate” factions. The problem was that, like so many of the “vetted, moderate” factions, they couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag, and were long reliant on Nusra to do the fighting for them. When the US war split them irrevocably from Nusra, it just meant they were going to get taken over, and the real loss is the US weapons.
The Pentagon seems so far content that it can deflect all criticism of its many, many failures in Iraq and Syria by arguing that the war is so open-ended that it is unfair to judge it by “just three months” of failures. It’s unclear how long this excuse will remain viable, though with some officials talking up a 30-year war and the Pentagon now expecting any tangible gains until late 2015, it could be quite some time.