Green Berets Matthew Lewellen, Kevin McEnroe, and James Moriarty approached the Prince Faisal Airbase in Jordan in their vehicle along with one Jordanian military officer. They were assigned the IA mission, meaning inter-agency, as a part of the CIA’s Timber Sycamore covert operation to train and arm so-called moderate Syrian rebels. At the gate there was an exchange of gunfire which Jordanian authorities have described as a, “chain of unfortunate events.” Amidst the bedlam at the gate, a Special Forces Team Sergeant confronted the the shooter after failing to deescalate the attack. The Team Sergeant wounded the shooter during the firefight, who is now being held by the Jordanian government for questioning.
Initial reports were conflicted with each other, and a subsequent FBI investigation describes finding no trace of terrorist activity involved in the incident. At first the Jordanians claimed that one of the Special Forces soldiers opened fire at the gate unprovoked. A second story claimed that one of the Americans accidentally discharged his weapon leading to a confused firefight of mistaken identity. However, according to multiple sources inside Special Forces, the shooter conducted a deliberate and pre-planned assault on the 5th Special Forces Group members. Multiple sources confirmed that the shooter is an ISIS sympathizer. Lewellen, McEnroe, and Moriarty, who were in the process of transitioning back to the United States were killed, the Jordanian officer injured.
The only detail left uncertain is if the shooter was a Jordanian military gate guard, or if he was actually one of the “moderate” rebels which the Special Forces men were there to train.
The slaying of three Green Berets comes after years of the Special Forces soldiers assigned to the CIA’s Timber Sycamore program complaining that the moderate rebels they had been sent to train were actually ISIS and al-Nusra infiltrators. The vetting that the CIA does of the rebels is dubious at best, consisting of bio-metric trace searches in old databases which are far from comprehensive. The Special Forces soldiers have repeatedly brought up the fact that the rebels they have to train have also failed their polygraphs and display allegiances to Islamists during interviews. Such concerns have also been expressed by the CIA’s para-military component, called Ground Branch, which have also gone ignored.
The inter-agency mission given to 5th Special Forces Group sees the Green Berets seconded to the CIA in which they act under Title 50 covert action authorities instead of Title 10 military authorities. During such deployments, they also act in a compartmentalized manner to the point that even the Colonel who commands 5th Group is not read in on to the CIA missions. A Special Forces soldier at Fort Campbell, Kentucky is assigned a position called S3X in which he is read on to all of the missions and acts as coordinator. Special Forces Groups are assigned to handle different regions around the world, and 5th Group’s area of operations is the Middle East making them the natural choice for the training and equipping of rebel forces in Turkey and Jordan.
Concerns about the so-called moderate rebels have been brought up time and time again by the Special Forces trainers. Even the much lauded and allegedly successful program to arm the rebels with TOW missiles has proved to be a failure. Soon after the the TOWs were delivered, ISIS raided the storage facility where they were kept, the CIA-trained rebels abandoning their own weapons systems. Even the TOWs that remain in moderate FSA (Free Syrian Army) rebel hands end up benefitting the likes of the Al Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra. When a moderate FSA members fires TOW missiles in an offensive and takes new ground, that terrain is quickly ceded to al-Nusra, as moderate opposition groups are too weak to hold it.
CIA officers, particularly the station chief in Turkey, are known to routinely blow off the concerns of the Special Forces sergeants. The CIA has a careerist culture in which numbers have to be met in order for their officers to be eligible for promotion, therefore the mission takes second place to checking tick marks on a ledger. Special Forces trainers complain that they were taking on too many rebels for them to control, and that many were actually terrorists. Requests from the Green Berets for a security element from the Ranger Regiment to guard the rebels were dismissed. The CIA blew off any and all concerns that the Green Berets had leading many of the trainers to actively sabotage the programs by passively refusing to train rebels that they know are actually terrorists. Some senior CIA staffers stayed away from the mission entirely, believing that the eventual blowback would be enough to destroy their careers.
The legalities in arming groups which are designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations by the State Department are murky and complicated. If the orders are written the “right” way and lawyers are in sync at the White House and Department of Justice, they can be signed off on. Otherwise, the case can be made that support for the rebel programs are essential, admonishing the asset and personnel trained, while claiming that they will be monitored. The case would be that dubious groups have to be trained in the name of regime change in Syria, a regime that has backing from Russia, China, and Iran.
A curious loophole in 18 USC 2339, which makes it illegal to provide material support to terrorist organizations, is exception J which states that:
No person may be prosecuted under this section in connection with the term “personnel,” “training,” or “expert advice or assistance” if the provision of that material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization was approved by the Secretary of State with the concurrence of the Attorney General. The Secretary of State may not approve the provision of any material support that may be used to carry out terrorist activity (as defined in section 212(a)(3)(B)(iii) of the Immigration and Nationality Act).
Exception J probably provides enough of a legal loophole for the CIA to train terrorists once DOJ and the White House of signed off on paperwork carefully written by a team of lawyers.
The triad of nations which are adversarial to the United States, Russia, China, and Iran, who are sponsoring the Syrian regime may have been enough to warrant, in the CIA and White House’s eyes, the arming of nefarious organizations in a deadly proxy war. The White House and the Department of Justice have to be providing paper to the CIA for these actions, as senior management at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia won’t move without adequate protection for themselves. In this scenario, the 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.