by Brendan James
In March, the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA had increased its covert training and support efforts to enhance Iraq’s Counterterrorism Service forces that are focused on AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] or [Syrian jihadist] al-Nusrah militants that threaten western Iraq. A senior Obama administration official stated: “This relationship is focused on supporting the Iraqis to deal with terrorist threats within their borders, and not about ramping up unilateral operations.” Training and advising another state’s security forces is a normal component of military to military cooperation, but conducting kinetic operations for them could quickly draw the United States into creating additional enemies out of what are domestic and regionally-focused terrorist groups.
The CIA already serves as the counterterrorism air force of Yemen, and, occasionally, Pakistan. It should not further expand this chore to Iraq.
Extending the drone campaign to Iraq to to combat Syrian insurgents sounds like a profoundly poor idea that, as Zenko points out, could very quickly spin out of control. Given Obama’s rejection of the Petraeus-Hillary plan to directly arm Syrian rebels and his interest in preserving his legacy on Iraq, it’s hard to imagine him touching that border as things stand.
But proof has been mounting for a while now that jihads in Iraq and Syria travel back and forth with ease, and have comingled to the point that State has labled them the same operation. The obvious snag is that we want Bashar’s regime to fold and Maliki’s to hold up. The jihadis, of course, don’t distinguish the two, and right now their success against Bashar contributes to instability in Iraq, and vice versa. It’s quite a nasty cycle, one we’ll have to break at some point soon.