I LEARNED TO FIGHT LIKE AN AMERICAN AT THE FSA TRAINING CAMP IN JORDAN

“I do not want to mention my name,” says a 20-year-old FSA fighter, “because the camp we practiced in was highly classified.”

So classified, in fact, that the CIA – who are rumoured to be running the camp (but declined to comment for this article) – still won’t acknowledge it exists.

For nearly a year, rumours have swirled about a covert, US-run training camp for FSA fighters in the vast Jordanian desert. (Jordanian intelligence also did not respond to requests for comment on this article.) And, last week, it was reported that the Obama administration appears to be expanding “its covert programme of training and assistance for the Syrian opposition”. However, despite all this speculation, little is known about how this supposed Jordanian camp works, who trains there and what tactics they learn.

However, I recently tracked down a fighter who said he’d completed the course and was willing to talk.

“Fighter A” is from Daraa, just a stone’s throw from the Jordanian border in southern Syria. He was at secondary school when the revolution twisted into civil war, and his plans to study law were set aside for a Kalashnikov, joining the FSA at just 18 years old.

One day last May, when Fighter A was 19, he was taken aside and given some good news. “I was selected by the brigade commander to go to training camp,” he says. “I was told we would be trained on heavy weapons and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.” But he didn’t know exactly what to expect: “I had heard of military camps taking place, but I didn’t know where and when.”

The next morning, Fighter A and 39 other young men like him headed south into Jordan, their journey jointly choreographed by Daraa’s FSA military council and, allegedly, Jordanian intelligence. Mobile phones were confiscated, to be returned at the end of camp. No questions were asked. These men were going off the grid.

When the group finally arrived at a high-security military facility deep in the Jordanian desert, Fighter A found the last thing he expected: Americans.

“I was surprised when I saw foreign trainers,” he says. “The Americans who taught us wore military uniforms I did not recognise. We called them by their first names and they spoke English to us.”

Fighter A’s brigade comrades manning a defensive position in Daraa

And so began a 40-day programme of fitness, fighting tactics and weapons training, all – according to Fighter A – barked out by US military instructors with interpreters at their sides, translating every order into Arabic. Recruits exercised in the morning and at night, knocking out set after set of crunches and press-ups and going for long runs. “The exercises were tiring, but I became fitter,” says Fighter A.

He was also well fed. “They served us the best types of food at the camp – grilled meat, mansaf [a Jordanian lamb dish], Kentucky Fried Chicken, soup, rice, Mexican chicken and many other foods. Each person got American food or Arab food at their request.”

Accommodation was on site in pre-fabricated housing, and days were spent preparing for combat. “We were trained in urban warfare and street fighting: how to break into buildings as a team, how to blow up houses held by the enemy and how to free captives.”

Weapons instruction was at the heart of the programme. Recruits were trained on Kalashnikovs, light machine guns, mortars, anti-tank mines and SPG-9 unguided anti-tank missiles. This teaching beefed up Fighter A’s light and medium arms skills and introduced him to heavy weapons he hadn’t previously used. “Before the camp I used a Kalashnikov and light machine guns, and at the camp I was trained to shoot faster and more accurately. Mortars and anti-tank missiles like the SPG-9 were new to me.”

The much-anticipated anti-aircraft missiles known as “MANPADS” – which Barack Obama was reportedly planning to send to Syrian rebels – never materialised.

I asked Fighter A about a graduation ceremony – how had the recruits and their instructors marked the end of the programme?

“There was no graduation ceremony, but we did a graduation project at the end. It was a complete fighting project that included everything we had been trained on. For me, this was the best part of the camp.”

And then camp was over.

Fighter A and his fellow recruits were each given $500 and sent back to Syria. It took a day to reach Daraa, where phones were returned and lives re-connected. He went to see his family first, then reported to brigade headquarters for his next orders.

Fighter A training members of his brigade

Since his American training, Fighter A has become a trainer himself, teaching the men in his brigade to shoot faster and more accurately, to fire mortars and lay into the enemy with anti-tank mines and missiles. He still fights with a Kalashnikov and a light machine gun, and his brigade has added mortars and 14.5’’ machine guns to its arsenal. Though he hasn’t received any more money or any weapons from the US or Jordan, “I benefitted a lot from the camp,” he says. “I gained a lot of new fighting skills.”

One thing he doesn’t keep up with is the exercise programme. The lack of food in Daraa leaves a 20-year-old man hungry on a good day, so Fighter A figures there’s no sense burning the extra energy if he can’t replace it.

In recent months Fighter A has met other rebels who have been through the same training camp. Experts suggest that this isn’t the only Jordan-based programme training moderate Syrians to fight the American way.

“There’s a dribble – a small trickle of fighters, maybe 150 soldiers a month,” says Joshua Landis, director of the Centre of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “But there’s not enough of them to make a difference.”

Charles Lister, a Visiting Fellow with the Brookings Doha Centre – and an expert on FSA activity in southern Syria – agrees. “So far, because this training effort has been on such a small scale, it doesn’t appear to have a qualitative impact on conflict dynamics inside the country.”

Beyond manpower, there’s also the issue of arms – the earthbound FSA is seriously outmatched by the Syrian Air Force. Rebels have been asking for anti-aircraft missiles for more than a year, and at the top of their wish list are shoulder-launched surface to air missiles – the “MANPADS” – that can shoot a plane out of the sky.

An FSA tank in Daraa

While Saudi is keen to provide these, Landis says, the US has so far refused to let it happen. “America has a very important national interest, which is to know who is getting what weapons.” As al-Qaeda digs into the infrastructure of rebel-controlled Syria, the threat for US interests becomes untenable: “America cannot let MANPADS into Syria because they will be used against Israeli planes someday,” he says.

Lister sees America’s refusal to step up training numbers and allow rebels more sophisticated weapons systems – namely, the anti-aircraft missiles Fighter A was waiting for – as an indication that it’s just not that committed to changing conflict dynamics.

Landis admits that the US is playing a “rather mischievous role” by supporting the rebels with one hand and restraining them with the other. “The result is that we’re prolonging the rebellion, but we’re also making sure it can’t win.”

Back in Daraa, Fighter A is under no illusions that the American training, American food and American dollars he enjoyed in Jordan are in any way indicative of an American desire to help the rebels win. “America is benefiting from the destruction and the killing in order to weaken both sides,” he says.

But he does think the training is helping the rebels make gains in Syria and, for now, this is enough. He believes in his cause, and he is patient. “I didn’t know or expect revolutions [to be] filled with blood,” he says. “But I remember the saying: if you want to jump forwards, you have to take two steps backwards.”

By Sara Elizabeth Williams, Photos: Anonymous Apr 3 2014

Find this story at 3 April 2014

© 2014 Vice Media Inc.

Israel Asked Jordan for Approval to Bomb Syrian WMD Sites

Anxiety is increasing about the prospect of a desperate Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against his rapidly proliferating enemies. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Assad that such chemical weapons use would cross a U.S. red line: “I’m not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice to say we are certainly planning to take action.”

This new level of anxiety was prompted by reports that Assad’s forces have been moving chemical weapons, according to David Sanger and Eric Schmitt in The Times. They report that one American official told them that “the activity we are seeing suggests some potential chemical weapon preparation,” though the official “declined to offer more specifics of what those preparations entailed.”

The U.S. is not the only country worried about the possible use of chemical weapons. Intelligence officials in two countries told me recently that the Israeli government has twice come to the Jordanian government with a plan to take out many of Syria’s chemical weapons sites. According to these two officials, Israel has been seeking Jordan’s “permission” to bomb these sites, but the Jordanians have so far declined to grant such permission.

Of course, Israel can attack these sites without Jordanian approval (in 2007, the Israeli Air Force destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor), but one official told me that the Israelis are concerned about the possible repercussions of such an attack on Jordan. “A number of sites are not far from the border,” he said, further explaining: “The Jordanians have to be very careful about provoking the regime and they assume the Syrians would suspect Jordanian complicity in an Israeli attack.” Intelligence sources told me that Israeli drones are patrolling the skies over the Jordan-Syria border, and that both American and Israeli drones are keeping watch over suspected Syrian chemical weapons sites.

He went on to provide context of the Israeli request: “You know the Israelis — sometimes they want to bomb right away. But they were told that from the Jordanian perspective, the time was not right.” The Israeli requests were made in the last two months, communicated by Mossad intermediaries dispatched by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office, according to these sources. (I asked the Israeli embassy in Washington for comment on this, but received no answer.)

By Jeffrey Goldberg
Dec 3 2012, 7:54 AM ET 188

Find this story at 3 December 2012

Copyright © 2012 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved. CDN powered by Edgecast Networks. Insights powered by Parsely .

Israel asked for Jordan’s approval to bomb Syria, say sources

The government of Israel has sent Jordan at least two requests in the past two months to bomb targets in Syria, according to intelligence sources. The Atlantic magazine, which published the revelation on Monday, said Tel Aviv has been seeking Amman’s “permission” to move ahead with “a plan to take out many of Syria’s chemical weapons sites”. Citing unnamed “intelligence officials in two countries”, The Atlantic said that the Israeli requests were communicated to the Jordanian government by officials from the Mossad, Israel’s primary covert-action agency. In both instances, the Mossad delegation was allegedly dispatched to Amman on the orders of the Office of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister. However, the Jordanians are so far resisting the Israeli proposals, says The Atlantic, telling their Jewish neighbors that “the time [is] not right” for direct military action. It is worth pointing out that Israel does not technically require Jordan’s permission to bomb Syria. Its air force can do so without assistance from Amman. This was demonstrated on September 6, 2007, when Israel bombed a target at Al-Kibar, deep in the Syro-Arabian Desert, thought to be the site of a nuclear reactor. Even though Tel Aviv has not officially admitted a role in the attack, Israeli officials have repeatedly hinted that Israel was behind it. According to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which published a detailed account of the bombing, the attack was codenamed Operation ORCHARD. The difference this time appears to be that many of Syria’s chemical weapons facilities, which Israel allegedly wants to destroy, are located along the Syrian-Jordanian border. This, according to The Atlantic’s sources, poses the danger that Damascus would suspect Amman’s complicity in any attack on its southern territory. Israel is therefore “concerned about the possible repercussions of such an attack on Jordan”, claims the magazine. The Atlantic’s national correspondent, Jeffrey Goldberg, who authored the article, says he contacted the embassy of Israel in Washington, DC, seeking a comment on the story, but received no answer.

December 4, 2012 by Joseph Fitsanakis 2 Comments

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |

Find this story at 4 December 2012