ASPEN, CO. - The American effort to arm Syria's opposition may be stalled in Congress. But the Hill just gave the State Department the green light to pay police in rebel-controlled territory a monthly stipend of $150. It's a start - and it's part of a wider U.S. effort to build law enforcement organizations in conflict-ridden nations.
"We'd rather have a trained policeman who is trusted by the community than have to bring in a new crowd or bring in an international group that doesn't know the place," Rick Barton, assistant secretary of state for conflict and stabilization operations, said during a talk at the Aspen Security Forum today.
"There are literally thousands of defected police inside of Syria, they are credible in their communities because they've defected," said Barton. "They have been playing the role of police without any pay because there's no revenue stream in the opposition controlled areas."
Right now, it's the best the U.S. can manage. Weapons shipments, promised in June, have been slowed. Obama administration lawyers have repeatedly raised red flags over the arms transfers. Congressmen are concerned the weapons could fall into the wrong hands. The CIA has been quietly training small groups of anti-Assad fighters to use anti-tank weapons and heavy guns, according to the Los Angeles Times. But a larger up-arming and training push is on hold. "We don't understand why our friends delay and delay and delay and hesitate to support us," Gen. Salim Idriss, the commander of a Western-backed rebel group, told McClatchy.
In the meantime, the State Department has been providing some Syrian opposition groups secure communications technologies as well as some rule-of-law training, added Barton. There have also been planned shipments of vehicles, medical supplies, and night vision goggles. But even that non-lethal aid has been bottled up in the bowels of the American bureaucracy; fully half of it was still on U.S. shelves as of last month.
All of this is part of the U.S. government's effort to build up the capacity of local groups in conflict zones around the globe. The idea is for them to eventually handle extremist threats on their own, according to Barton and several people sharing the stage with him at Aspen today.
This is reflected by the way the U.S. has bee sending small teams of soldiers, spies and diplomats to countries and regions with brewing or existing fights with extremist groups.
U.S. Special Operations Command chief Adm. Bill McRaven said this trend will grow as the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, allowing it to deploy special operations teams on missions to train local militaries around the globe.
"Ideally, you want to take these violent extremist networks that kind of have regional reach, make it [the terror group's reach] local, and then make it a local law enforcement problem," said McRaven. "If you can do that, then you can eliminate the terrorist threat, I think, as we know it today."
McRaven said that hammering terrorist groups until they can be rolled up by local law enforcement is a process that will take decades.
"Do I think we're gonna get there in the mid-future? No I don't think we will," said the four-star admiral. "But we need to strive for that because if we don't, we'll be deferring back to our old kinetic way of doing business."
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