Back to the Front
By: Patrick Garvey
Many Americans are skeptical about our nation’s ability to build partner forces successfully. Last December, Congress authorized a mission to build the capabilities of moderate Syrian fighters. The goal is for these fighters to defend the Syrian people; stabilize areas under opposition control; promote the conditions for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Syria; and empower trainees to go on the offensive against Daesh, also known as the Islamic State. The operation is being directed by the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force–Syria (CJIATF-Syria).
In March of this year, I was recalled to active duty to serve as inspector general (I.G.) for CJIATF-Syria, which is led by Major General Mike Nagata. As the I.G., I am tasked with enhancing the readiness, war-fighting, and mission capabilities of the command. The role of an I.G. in an operation is to serve as an independent set of eyes and ears for the commander, particularly when it comes to fraud, waste, and mismanagement of funds. In this particular mission, I am also looking to provide institutional protection for the soldiers who are undertaking this complex task.
Train and equip missions, even in benign, peacetime environments with long-standing allies and good infrastructure are extremely difficult. Here, we’re recruiting men who are engaged in pitched battles for their families, homes, and villages to leave those things behind to come to a training program that we’re advertising through word-of-mouth. We have thousands of volunteers. The men we are training are fighting for their very existence, and some have lost everything to Daesh. The curriculum includes advanced infantry skills and an extensive law-of-armed-conflict module. Following the training, we provide weapons and support to help them succeed in the battle against Daesh.
I have focused my efforts on having outside organizations evaluate our policies and procedures and ensure CJIATF-Syria adheres to congressional intent and existing regulations. Already we have had visits from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Department of Defense inspector general (DODIG), with more oversight visits planned, including from the Army Audit Agency. These outside evaluations are essential for providing this command with every opportunity to succeed, particularly in the uncharted waters of bringing rebel fighters outside their homeland, training them in partnership with five other nations, giving them advanced technical skills and weapons, and then sending them back to fight a ruthless terrorist group that has taken over their villages, killed their friends and families, and threatened their way of life.
The work of the CJIATF-Syria faces scrutiny and skepticism, particularly in the face of a complex war that has cost more than 200,000 lives and the unrelenting demands of one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time. The command recognizes this is a long-term mission. There is no doubt that building the capacity of partners is challenging work. Nevertheless, if the United States is to protect its interests without overextending itself, it will need to learn how to train and advise effectively. Moreover, it must do so in a way that demonstrates strong stewardship of American taxpayers’ dollars.