US efforts at unconventional warfare were badly planned and improperly executed, leading to a back-up plan that is empowering Hezbollah. Iran’s unconventional warfare efforts, by contrast, are going very well.
Due to the failure of American-backed proxy forces in Syria, the back-up plan is to greatly increase aid to the Lebanese Army. Akbar Shahid Ahmed and Jessica Schulberg report that a billion dollars a year of US military equipment is now flowing to Lebanon, a tiny country whose proximity to Syria has propelled it to become the fifth largest recipient of American military aid. The Lebanese Army has extensive ties to Hezbollah, however, ties so longstanding that the US Congress has halted military aid to the country several times in the past. Currently Hezbollah is guaranteeing the Lebanese Army’s supply lines and fighting alongside Lebanese forces. The strategy is risky at best, Ahmed and Schulberg write, and at worst:
[A]t worst, the Obama administration is effectively fueling the problem it is trying to tackle — while handing American weaponry to Hezbollah, the most powerful of Iran’s proxies. That adds even more confusion to the U.S.’s already bizarre relationship with Iran in the fight against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, with the two powers backing opposite sides in Syria even as they tacitly coordinate in Iraq and, increasingly, in Lebanon.
The United States has few options because its Syrian proxy forces have failed due to the administration’s failure to prepare a proper unconventional warfare campaign in support of a coherent strategy. As retired Special Forces Colonel David Maxwell writes in his analysis of the administration’s error:
The terms President Obama used to describe this effort tell the story. Instead of a campaign to support a strategy, the White House directed the military to implement a “program.” Instead of unconventional warfare, the White House chose to call the program “train and equip” and severely limited U.S. personnel from conducting the necessary tasks of an unconventional warfare campaign . This is evidenced by the sole focus on train and equip without ground assessments and direct advising of indigenous forces, as well as the lack of authorities necessary to develop an underground and auxiliary — fundamental elements of any unconventional warfare campaign. It is also troubling that there are two “train and equip programs,” one being conducted by the military and the other by the CIA, according to media reports. Most egregious is that the Obama administration started much too late.
As reported here at IranTruth, Iran by contrast has been highly successful in its unconventional warfare campaigns in Syria and Iraq. It has made neither of the mistakes that Maxwell describes, having a unified command for its unconventional warfare in Quods Force. Its erection of Shia militias in both countries has been devoted to ensuring that they are ideologically committed to the particular strand of Shia Islam that the Iranian revolution preaches. They have also fielded propaganda to encourage people joining such militias to think of themselves as the guardians of Shi’ite monuments and shrines throughout the region, meaning that these militia are being shaped to be a long-term force even after the defeat Iran plans for ISIS. Iran is using the conflict to set up proxy forces loyal to its agenda and itself, forces who will serve to extend Iran’s influence across the Levant in the name of eternally protecting the shrines of Shi’a Islam.
Iran is thus planning for the long term in its unconventional warfare campaign, and not merely the present difficulty. Neither is it guilty of having started late: the reason that the Lebanese Army finds itself dependent upon Hezbollah to defend its supply lines and serve as a reserve force of last resort is that Iran has trained and supplied Hezbollah for decades. Whereas Western proxy forces such as “Division 30” have quickly collapsed and been disowned, Hezbollah is now a rooted fixture in the region upon which even the official government depends for support. The same is true in Iraq where, just as in Lebanon, the official government even with American backing now cannot fight ISIS without the direct support of Iranian proxy forces. Iran’s success at grooming Hezbollah is being repeated in Iraq and Syria.