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When Arming the Rebels Goes Wrong?

Published on 30 October 2014, by M. Tomazy.
The rapid and violent rise of the Islamic State, or ISIS, has sparked growing calls for deeper U.S. involvement in the arming and training of rebel forces in Syria.
The trouble is, such efforts might now always work as advertised.

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported on a still-classified internal CIA review — commissioned during the Obama administration’s deliberations over its Syria policy — that concluded that many past attempts by the agency to arm foreign forces have had little effect on the long-term outcome of the conflict. As the Times reported, “They were even less effective … when the militias fought without any direct American support on the ground.”

Although the Times analysis did not detail specific examples from the CIA report, several of the agency’s failed attempts at foreign intervention are widely known.

As recently as 2006, for example, a covert effort to finance secular warlords in Somalia was criticized for leading to the resurgence of Islamic militias in the country. The policy reached a low point that year when Islamist militias broke the warlords’ hold on the capital of Mogadishu. In time, the insurgency would give way to the even more hardline group Al-Shabab, which eight years later, remains the principal threat in war-torn Somalia.