On May 26th, PBS ran a report entitled “Syrian Rebels Describe U.S.-Backed Training in Qatar“. In the article, they quote interviews with rebels who are currently receiving arms and training from the U.S.
According to those rebels, the U.S. is teaching them tactics which blatantly violate the Geneva conventions.
“They trained us to ambush regime or enemy vehicles and cut off the road,” said the fighter, who is identified only as “Hussein.” “They also trained us on how to attack a vehicle, raid it, retrieve information or weapons and munitions, and how to finish off soldiers still alive after an ambush.“
At a Qatar base, said to be on the border with Saudi Arabia, the rebels each allegedly received three weeks of training in the use of sophisticated weapons and fighting techniques, and also received new uniforms and boots.
Under the Geneva conventions, the killing of wounded soldiers (even mercy killings) is prohibited under Article 3, (2) of Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
Killing wounded soldiers is also sometimes considered bad strategy in conventional warfare, due to the fact that taking care of the wounded is much more costly for enemy forces than burying their dead. As cynical as it sounds, traditional armies prefer to leave a trail of mangled survivors than to kill them cleanly.
The first-hand interviews in a Frontline documentary have revealed that a secret base in Qatar, the US military is training rebels to raid Syrian government troops and vehicles, as well as to “finish off the soldiers still alive after an ambush”.
It features interviews by journalist Muhammad Ali with Syrian rebels presented as members of a “moderate faction” who describe a clandestine meeting with their “American handlers” in Turkey, along with the receiving of weapons and ammunition and the subsequent travel to Qatar for training.
The interviews are the latest evidence that after more than three years of warfare, the United States has stepped up the provision of lethal aid to the rebels.
In recent months, at least 5 rebel units have posted videos showing their members firing U.S.-made TOW anti-tank missiles at Syrian army positions. The weapons are believed to have come from Saudi Arabia, but experts on international arms transfers have told McClatchy that they could not have been given to the rebels without the approval of the Obama administration.
This latest move by the US comes as the head of the Syrian National Coalition for Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Ahmad Al-Jarba, visits Washington to lobby for more support. Al-Jarba is pushing for Washington to supply rebel forces with anti-aircraft missiles, the New York Times reports.
While meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, Al-Jarba emphasized that his coalition was “moderate and inclusive.”
“The coalition’s goal is to build a pluralistic, civil state where the majority can live together with the minority in peace,” he said.
Washington has thrown its support behind the Syrian National Coalition, granting the body official foreign mission status in the US. The US government suspended the Syrian embassy, representing the Assad government, earlier in March, 2014. In addition, the White House has pledged an extra $27 million to helping the cause of the rebels in Syria.
Backing to the documentary, and according to Ali, the 21-year-old militant had not had any prior military training, like many of his fellow fighters. Initially, Hussein and about 80 to 90 other rebels were sent to Ankara for training at the request of “American contacts,” Hussein’s commander told the journalist.
After days of interrogations “about their political leanings and their unit’s fighting history,” some military men, who the commander thought were from the CIA, told the rebels they were to be sent to a training camp in Qatar – a Persian Gulf monarchy hosting several US military bases.
The United States has refused to confirm its growing efforts to help the fighters. Neither the Pentagon nor the CIA would comment on Frontline’s findings.
Moreover, many within and without of government fear U.S.-provided weapons could make their way into extremist hands, particularly in a place like Syria, where alliances and foes change with breakneck fluidity. Moderate rebel groups have worked closely with the al-Qaida associes: Nusra Front and the Islamic Front, one of whose factions, Ahrar al Sham, includes al Qaida members among its founders.
Perhaps because of those reasons, Congress has rarely signed off on funding for training and arming effort, and officially, the United States only provides non-lethal aid, like food rations, clothing and first aid supplies.