On Turkey’s push to salvage Syrian fighting spirit

Thinking Assad would either resign or be brought down like the other Arab Spring countries, the world started watching the Syrian fight

Ceylan Ozbudak
Ceylan Ozbudak
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After months of negotiations and reviews, Turkey and the U.S. have signed a train-and-equip agreement aimed at bolstering moderate Syrian opposition fighters. This agreement is likely to have diplomatic outcomes between the two NATO allies and provide answers to many questions currently in the air, however, if we analyze the situation objectively, the “train-equip agreement” is going to make very little change in the civil war situation – if any.

Assuming this agreement – which sounds like nothing but a legitimate way of spending time without being accused of sitting idly by – came from the U.S. in the first year of the Syrian civil war, it would have had a shot of making a real difference. In the first six months of the Syrian uprising, there were no organized armed forces; the movement was a civil rebellion for democracy. As the Assad government’s bloody crackdown continued, the opposition decided to take up arms and thus many small insurgencies were formed. Syrian rebel forces were mostly inexperienced opposition groups, who were in desperate need of arms, training and funding, none of which they were able to receive from the countries opposing Assad’s bloody crimes.

Thinking Assad would either resign or be brought down like the other Arab Spring countries, the world started watching the Syrian fight

Ceylan Ozbudak

Thinking Assad would either resign or be brought down like the rulers of other Arab Spring countries, the world started watching the Syrian fight escalate. But Syria was not an ordinary Arab state; as an ally to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and holding the key naval base of Russia in the Mediterranean, Assad received the help he needed. The Shia Crescent did not abandon him in his fight either.

This was the moment when radical insurgencies began flocking to Syria not only because the civil war started to look like a Sunni-Shia conflict (even though it wasn’t) in which Hezbollah was a proxy, but also because the Syrian opposition was in no position to turn down any aid. Radical foreign fighters came with their weapons, ammunition, their funding and in some cases, actual battlefield experience. It is no secret that the Free Syrian Army benefited from Jabhat al-Nusra’s training in the beginning but these foreign fighters were carrying another weapon, which is more dangerous than those that can be seen at first glance – a poisonous ideology. Then again, the Syrian rebels were in no position to decline the offer. In the end, there was a war and they were on the ground. We weren’t there to help stop the war.

Possible difference

At this point, the offer to train and equip the moderate Syrian rebels could have made a difference and kept the foreign fighters out of the scene; but after three years of Syria turning into a wasteland filled with thousands of foreign fighters, I highly doubt this long-term agreement will have any effect on the current war. Not to mention, the aim of this agreement is to get the moderate rebels ready to fight Assad's forces after months of training yet no one can claim to know what they will find when they go back to Syria.

Let’s say that the Syrian rebels defeated the Assad forces; what would they do with the existing radical insurgencies already inside the country? The coalition forces promised to continue its aerial bombardment of the ISIS forces inside Syria as a solution, which will leave behind an even further destroyed Syria where no human being can actually live. Who can promise the trained and well-equipped moderates will not join the foreign fighters after their training? Since al-Nusra fights alongside the FSA on many occasions against both Assad's forces and ISIS, will this agreement benefit al-Nusra as well? Didn’t we learn from the experience of the U.S. arming al-Qaeda in Libya against Qaddafi, resulting in the delivering of U.S. weapons to ISIS? Does the region need more weapons?

Not happy

We all know the U.S. is not happy with Turkey’s non-involvement in the military campaign against ISIS and cannot believe how an ally can say “no” to it (despite the long list of poor decisions in its military involvements). Turkey’s hesitant attitude to stay away from wars in the region must be understood. Unlike the West, Turkey as a border country does not have the luxury to say “we have to liberate ourselves from the notion that we caused this crisis.”

On the other hand, this agreement will bring the tensions between Turkey and the U.S. down. Just like the collaboration of Turkey with the U.S. against the ISIS oil trade eased diplomatic tensions between the countries, despite continuing heavy media criticism, this step will also further strengthen the ties. If nothing else, this agreement will help the US military and advisors to be able to have a permanent space inside Turkey's borders for the next three years and will give them a notion of getting at least some of their way with Turkey and rebuilding the trust between the allies.

The region does not need more weapons or better-trained fighters. Having one more proxy on the ground will only add to the number of murders. If the aim is peace and stability, we should work on solutions, including building not destroying. After hundreds of years of fighting, Germany, France and England extracted themselves from this deadly and seemingly endless position by pursuing policies of integration and creating a united front, which forestalled the ability of the states to act alone. Following the sporadic disputes between the original thirteen American colonies, the formation of the United States ended this struggle. Learning from history, this is the path we need to follow in the Middle East, not one of further fragmentation.

Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of the Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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