The thorny issue of training provision
06 Aug 12 | By Tim Mahon
Reports from behind the lines in Syria indicate that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – described as rebels by the Assad regime – has attracted support in the form of volunteers from all parts of the Syrian diaspora, with many Syrians returning from the countries in which they have settled to fight for what they see as their nation’s liberation. Many, if not all, of them have had little or no military experience.
That gap is being filled, according to unconfirmed but
persistent reports, by the provision of training by Turkish military personnel in
a secret camp in Adana. Ranging from physical fitness through basic weapons
training to relatively advanced covert operations instruction, the training is
apparently rapid but effective and prepares neophyte ‘freedom fighters’ to be
inserted rapidly into operations within Syria.
Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are rumoured to be providing assistance, though whether this is in the form of training, personnel or funding is unclear. None of the three countries has confirmed or denied any such involvement.
According to recent reports from Washington, President Barack Obama has recently given the necessary authority for covert assistance to be given to the FSA. Though not confirmed in public and though the exact nature of such assistance will remain a matter of speculation at the moment, it is highly likely that US personnel may assist in training in some shape or form.
At the height of the Cold War, both ‘sides’ of the conflict used training as a political lever. Soviet assistance to several African countries, for example, took the form of gift aid weapons and consumables, on the condition that hundreds of ‘military advisors’ were accepted in country, giving Soviet foreign policy valuable beachheads inside ‘enemy’ territory.
Have we come full circle? Turkish troops – and Qatari and Saudi, for that matter – have received various levels of training, ranging from basic to sophisticated, from the United States, Great Britain and France, among other nations. Some of this training has been in direct support of weapons and other systems procured by the relevant country: other training has been provided in a more general manner, aimed at improving tactics and doctrine, manoeuvre skills and combat readiness.
The question of support for rebels, including the debate about whether training mattered, raised its head in the Libyan conflict and is coming slowly into focus again in Syria. Is training another tool in the political arsenal of those nations that feel obliged to intervene in evolutionary events such as the Syrian uprising? Are we getting to a point at which international agreements need to be reached regarding the provision of military training and its potentially destabilising ‘dual use’ in supporting conflict? Should we be examining the potential for an ‘International Register of Military Training Assistance’ along the same lines as the United Nations Conventional Arms Register?
It is doubtful whether any such thing is being contemplated at a serious level currently. However, as conflicts such as the Syrian revolution attract greater public scrutiny, and as taxpayers in the world’s democracies flex their muscles in demanding greater transparency as to how public funds are spent, we can expect the question to be asked, with increasing stridence. And the training and simulation community needs to have robust and defensible answers ready and waiting. Watch this space!