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LI vets of Iraq, Afghanistan question wisdom of arming Syrian rebels

Guillaume Threatts, 37, of Huntington, Army veteran who

Guillaume Threatts, 37, of Huntington, Army veteran who served from 1998 to 2004, in his living room with his army uniform in Huntington on Sept. 18, 2014. Credit: Heather Walsh

By his own account, Guillaume "T" Threatts is among area veterans who hold deeply conflicting feelings over whether the United States should arm Syrian rebels to help defeat the former al-Qaida splinter group known as the Islamic State.

A former soldier who served in Iraq in the earliest days of America's 2003 invasion, the Huntington resident said arming the rebels could blow up in America's face, should Syrian fighters deemed to be our allies today become adversaries tomorrow.

With both houses of Congress now handing President Obama approval to arm such a Syrian rebel proxy force, veterans of the decadelong war in Iraq such as Threatts wonder if that is the wise thing to do.

"It's not a good idea, because after they defeat ISIS, they could come after us," he said.

But a moment later, Threatts gave voice to the ambivalence that tugs at many area veterans, saying he might prefer arming Syrian fighters against the Islamic State to having Americans sent back to a battlefield where nearly 4,500 U.S. troops were killed during almost nine years of fighting.

"My little brother is still in," Threatts, 37, said. His brother deployed to Afghanistan two years ago. "When he's over there, I'm worried."

Threatts was among several Iraq and Afghanistan veterans interviewed for this article who said they are riveted by the debate over whether to funnel as much as $500 million to help arm the Syrian rebel groups.

Steven Stryska, 26, of Bay Shore, a former Army cavalry scout who served a 15-month tour in Iraq before returning to civilian life in 2010, has a deeply personal reason for concern.

Although his active duty status ended four years ago, Stryska can still be called up under the military's Individual Ready Reserve, which obligates him until January.

"I've been monitoring this all day," Stryska, a former activist with a veterans organization at Nassau County Community College, said of the debate in Congress. "I'm kind of out on the limb."

But Stryska, who helped train Iraqi forces before America's 2011 departure from Iraq, said the poor performance of Iraqi troops since then in battles against the Islamic State leaves him with little confidence that bands of Syrian rebels can do better.

"Even though this could keep American boots off the ground, arming the Syrians is cause for concern," Stryska said. "I'm not for redeploying, but at what expense? Like when we armed the Afghans against the Russians, this could come back to haunt us."

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