How US ends up training ISIS/Al Qaeda collaborators

In November 2015, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D‐HI) in the House Armed Services Committee led a bipartisan bill H.R. 4108 to stop the abuse of American taxpayer money in the CIA’s illegal arming and funding of al‐Qaeda affiliates in Syria.

Unfortunately, it was blocked, but after the recent deaths of three special forces assigned to train jihadists in Jordan, perhaps it is time to revisit a similar bill and stop this madness.

CIA’s Timber Sycamore program to train jihadists

In November, three Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group, Matthew Lewellen, Kevin McEnroe, and James Moriarty were murdered by an ISIS infiltrator at the Prince Faisal Airbase in Jordan.  They were assigned the inter-agency mission in the CIA’s Timber Sycamore covert operation to train and arm so called moderate Syrian rebels.

It is a tragedy that their deaths could have been prevented, as for years the Special Forces had been complaining the “moderate” rebels they were training were actually ISIS and Al Nusra infiltrators. The vetting process was flawed, consisting of a check on an old database and an interview, with many expressing support for these terrorist groups.

“I don’t understand why people don’t like al-Nusra” one rebel told the American soldiers, while a Green Beret associated with the training program in Turkey admitted “a good 95 percent of them were either working with terrorist organizations or were sympathetic to them.” He added, “a good majority of them admitted that they had no issues with ISIS and that their issue was with the Kurds and the Syrian regime.”

Indeed, the illegal CIA program has a regime change mandate to overthrow the Syrian government, and little to do with a counter-terrorism mandate to fight ISIS and Al Qaeda. In fact, a resilient ISIS and a more powerful Al Nusra are likely an organic outgrowth of this beneficial arming and training program.  As described by a Green Beret, the trainers know “we are just training the next generation of jihadis,” and that “the FSA [Free Syrian Army] is little more than a cover for the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra” to continue procuring western weapons from CIA and Saudi intelligence services.

Little wonder there now exists tension between the CIA and Special Forces, wherein the soldiers view “CIA treats their Special Forces trainers as de facto expendable assets, using them to train known Jihadists, when it was only a matter of time before something went wrong.”

As a soldier herself, it is also of little wonder Congresswoman Gabbard objects to this exploitation of American troops.

Even Gulf monarchies consider US troops expendable mercenaries. In his January 7, 1991 Wall Street Journal article entitled “White slaves in the Persian Gulf”, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. revealed that when asked about U.S.-led military build-up to liberate Kuwait, a Saudi official replied ‘you think I want to send my teenage son to die for Kuwait? We have our white slaves from the US to do that.” Now it seems the Saudis also want their “white slaves” to set up a no-fly zone in Syria to install their Salafist regime.

And as American taxpayers are hurting during hard economic times, no wonder many of them voted for an outsider like Trump to come in and stop the waste, abuse and the Washington establishment’s poor stewardship of American blood and treasure.

Now, With ISIS, al Qaeda, and Salafi jihadists pivoting to Asia, quo vadis for US policy on Syria and the Middle East?

Jihadists pivot to Asia

The new US administration should begin by stopping the program of arming jihadists for regime change, and work with non-Wahhabi Mideast states such as Egypt and Jordan and Asian states for a truly concerted international counter-terrorism effort.  The more US supports the Wahhabis, the more this repels these moderate Sunni Muslim states, and pushes Asian states to ally with Iran.

The US has already lost quite a bit of credibility and moral legitimacy with its regime-change disasters in Iraq, Libya and Syria; a history of aligning with Saudi Arabia to support jihadists in Afghanistan and the Mideast; and helping to export Wahhabism that the late prime minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew blames for bringing terrorism to Asia.

Not only Singapore is put off by this US/Saudi Wahahbi nexus, but traditional US ally Philippines is now also distancing itself from US policy that “imported terrorism” into the Mideast.

Saleena Saleem from Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore likewise warned that the spread of Wahhabism is injecting sectarianism among Southeast Asian Muslims who had hitherto coexisted peacefully, threatening their pluralistic societies and exacerbating societal polarization. This is especially the case in Malaysia and Indonesia where ISIS and Al Qaeda have taken a stronghold.

Central Asia is also infested, especially Uzbekistan that has several thousand jihadists in Syria who will return home to roost one day. Their large presence in Aleppo has earned them the nickname “Aleppo Uzbeks,” and recently a video surfaced of them vowing to continue their jihad rather than evacuate.


As Professor Brahma Chellaney from New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research exhorted, the root cause of terrorism is the venomous ideology of Wahhabism. In order to regain credibility and demonstrate that US is serious about counter-terrorism, rather than using radical Islam as a weapon for geopolitical games that destroy countries and the lives of millions of people, US should redeem itself by dismantling the Saudi, Qatari and other Wahhabi religious-industrial complexes exporting jihadis.

And support the Stop Arming Terrorists Act (SATA), a new bipartisan bill introduced on December 8 by Congresswoman Gabbard. It is time to stop the madness.  It is time for America to stop arming terrorists.

Article first published in Asia Times on December 9, 2016.

About the Author
Dr. Christina Lin is a California-based academic and consultant specializing in China-Mediterranean/Middle East relations. She has extensive US government experience working on China security issues, including policy planning at the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and National Security Council--where she also worked on CFIUS cases.