Whither Caucasus Emirate?

 IK leader Aliaskhab Kebekov (youtube screenshot)

IK leader Aliaskhab Kebekov (youtube screenshot)

CSP, by Sean MacCormac, Jan. 15, 2015:

The continued existence of the Caucasus Emirate (IK) is in question with recent defections to Islamic State. Over the past month, at least six Chechen and Dagestani leaders have retracted their allegiances to the Caucasus Emirate and sworn their fealty to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In a Youtube video posted two weeks ago, IK leader Aliaskhab Kebekov (known as Ali Abu Muhammad) criticized the departing members for falling for “the tricks of Satan” and betraying their brothers in arms. Kebekov had earlier pledged his support for Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the wake of al-Zawahiri’s dispute with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

To date, at least hundreds of guerrillas from the Caucasus region have gone to Syria and Iraq to aid Islamic State in their conflict against the secular governments there. Some estimates say that up to 2,500 militants from the Caucasus have joined ISIS. The civil war in Syria gave the Chechen diaspora a chance to both fight against Russian interests and perceived injustices to Sunni Muslims while giving them the chance to live peacefully with their families back home afterwards. In fact, one of Islamic State’s most successful military commanders in Syria, Abu Omar al-Shishani, is of Chechen and Georgian ethnic origin. Al-Shishani is used by Islamic State as a recruiting tool in the Caucasus. The popular Russian social networking site VK.com is rife with pro-Islamic State and jihadist pages, prompting the Russian Prosecutor General to order the shutdown of many of the popular jihadist pages. Several of the pages have called for donations to Islamic State via the QIWI Wallet, an electronic payment system.

The six renegade commanders are; Sultan Zaynalabilov, the amir of Daghestan’s Aukh sector within the Khasavyurt district; Rustam Aselderov, Doku Umarov’s hand picked commander of the Daghestan insurgency; Abu-Mukhammad Agachaulsky, commander of a Makhachkala militant organization; Makhran Saidov, commander of the Chechen eastern front, as well as two other Chechens known only as “Khamzat” and “Usman” thus far. Though the reasons for their abandonment of Kebekov’s group remain unclear, it could be concerns over Kebekov being more moderate in the pursuit of military jihad. Kebekov has focused primarily on creating a support network for Caucasian Muslims as well as an ideological jihad since he succeeded Umarov, and has urged fighters to cease suicide bombings and to refrain from attacking civilians.

The War On Israel and the Middle East

Frontpage:

Below are the video and transcript to the panel discussion “The War on Israel and the Middle East,” which took place at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s 20th Anniversary Restoration Weekend. The event was held Nov. 13th-16th at the Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, Florida. 

Daniel Pipes: I’d like to make three geostrategic points in my few minutes, and I apologize in advance for having to leave, but the plane schedule is as it is. The first point is that — and this has been said before, I’d like to reiterate it — that Iran is a far greater threat than ISIS, and we are making an extraordinary mistake in joining with the Iranians against ISIS. Need one point out that ISIS has perhaps $5 million a day in oil revenue and 15,000 troops and, granted, a dynamism, but that Iran is a powerful state of 75 million people, an oil revenue in the hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of dollars, and an army of hundreds of thousands and, of course, a terror network and is building up their weapons? I would predict to you, ladies and gentleman, that ISIS, which appeared so suddenly, will disappear suddenly as well because it has so many enemies, it is so overextended, it is trying to do so much at the same time that it is going to collapse before very long and it is going to disappear as a state whereas Iran is going to be a longer lasting entity.

Let me also predict that the real importance of ISIS, Islamic state, ISIL, Daesh, call it what you will, lies not in this sizeable state that now exists between Bagdad and Turkey but rather in the resurrection of the idea of the caliphate. The last executive caliph with power was in the 940s — 940s, not 1940s — a long, long time ago. Yes, the institution of the caliphate continued until 1924, but it was meaningless. It was just a title. The actual caliphate, executive caliphate, disappeared over a millennium ago and then suddenly, this man who calls himself Caliphate Ibrahim resurrected it on June 29, 2014, and this has sent a frisson of excitement through the Muslim world, and this has created the notion of a feasible caliphate once again after having been gone for a millennium, and this is important. I can well imagine other groups taking up this same standard and demanding that they be accepted as the caliphate. I can further imagine that states such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and even Iran in its own Shiite way taking up the claim of caliphate and so this turns Islamist politics into an even more radical direction than it has been in the past and therefore is a very negative development, but that is an idea, and the notion that the U.S. government should be working with Iran against ISIS is madness, just simple madness.

Iran is the ultimate enemy, which is my second point. Iran is of course the ultimate enemy today. The acquisition by Iranian leadership of nuclear weapons will not only change the Middle East but will change the world. Other tyrants have had nuclear weapons — think of Stalin and Mao — but there’s something different about this group of tyrants in that they’re thinking about the end of days. They’re apocalyptically minded. They have ideas that, were they to deploy nuclear weapons, they would bring forward the days of the Mahdi, the Dajjal, and the other sequence events leading to the day of resurrection, so they are even more dangerous. Now, I could have a nice seminar extending for hours on whether they actually would deploy nuclear weapons or not, but I don’t want to find out, and I suspect you don’t either. It is absolutely imperative that they be stopped from doing that and that would not be easy because the Iranian leadership, like the North Korean leadership, is absolutely determined to get nuclear weapons and will pay whatever price is necessary. In North Korea it was mass starvation. In Iran, it will be economic deprivation and other problems, but they’re going to go ahead and while computer viruses and targeted assassinations and bombings, which have been taking place, will certainly slow things down, they cannot stop it. The only way to stop it is through use of force against the Iranian nuclear installations.

So, that I think is all pretty clear, but I’m going to go beyond that and say that when the happy day comes that the Islamic Revolution of Iran is overthrown — and that is a prospect that is real; we saw one run up toward it in June 2009 and it was suppressed, but it wasn’t eliminated and there will be further attempts — and it is certain that one of these days, the Islamic Republic will collapse. When that happens, I suggest to you, the Iranian people who are sick of this ideological state will become quite friendly. Posts show that the overwhelming majority of Iranians hate their government and hate the Islam that their government is purveying. I think that Iranians will be good friends when that day comes.

In contrast, I think our great problem in the Middle East will be Turkey. Turkey, which is also a very substantial state of some 80 million people and which is in an important strategic location, has a real economy, an educated population. Turkey has approached Islamism – well, the Turkish leadership has approached Islamism — in a far more intelligent way than the Iranians. I call Khomeini, “Islamism 1.0,” and Erdogan, “Islamism 2.0.” Khomeini used revolution and violence and so forth and his successor rules despotically, but Erdogan, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the dominant figure of Turkish politics, is a far more clever figure who has won I think nine elections in 13 years of various sorts, parliamentary, referendum, residential, has tripled the size of the economy and is a figure of enormous importance and popularity in the country. He has a very strong base. This is a not a despotism. Now, granted, over time, he’s becoming increasingly authoritarian, autocratic, unpleasant, decisive, but he has won his place democratically, and he will last and his regime will last much longer than Khomeini’s, and I believe as one looks at 10-20 years in the future, it will be Turkey, not Iran, that will be our great problem and that we should be preparing for that today.

Read more with Ken Timmerman, Daniel Greenfield and Caroline Glick

NY Times Admits: U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army Under Effective Al-Qaeda Control

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, Dec. 28, 2014:

A remarkable report by Anne Barnard of the New York Times this weekend confirms my multiple reports here at PJ Media about the increased alliance between the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra.

As Barnard reports:

In northern and eastern Syria, where Mr. Assad’s opponents won early victories and once dreamed of building self-government, the nationalist rebel groups calling themselves the Free Syrian Army are forced to operate under the extremists’ umbrellas, to go underground or to flee, according to Syrian insurgents, activists and two top commanders of the American-financed F.S.A. groups.

Two weeks ago I reported that Jabhat al-Nusra had used U.S. TOW anti-tank missiles in the rebels’ seizure of the Syrian Army’s base in Wadi al-Deif. The terror group posted a video showing the use of the TOW missiles in the battle (at ~3:50):

 

Nusra fans on Twitter were also noting the U.S. missiles being used:

Tow missile

Now Barnard confirms that FSA elements were fighting at Wadi al-Deif under the direction and/or control of Jabhat al-Nusra:

The fall of the army base at Wadi al-Deif, which straddles an important supply route in Idlib Province, proved the Nusra Front’s dominance, they said. Other insurgents had long besieged the base without victory. Nusra succeeded after seizing much of the province from Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, two of several groups that until recently, American officials were calling the opposition’s new hope […]

How exactly the Wadi al-Deif battle unfolded remains murky, with different commanders giving different versions. But reports and images from the operation make two things clear: antitank missiles were used, and Nusra claimed the victory. That means that the American-backed fighters could advance only by working with the Nusra Front, which the United States government lists as a terrorist group, or that they have lost the weapons to the Nusra fighters, effectively joined the group or been forced to follow its orders.

One commander of a group that received antitank missiles said that some F.S.A. fighters were forced to operate them in the battle on behalf of the Nusra Front, which had captured them from American-backed groups — a turn of events that he worried would lead the United States to cut off support […]

Abu Kumayt, a fighter with the Syrian Revolutionaries Front who said he fought in the battle under cover, gave a slightly different version. He said that groups with the antitank missiles fought alongside Nusra fighters and under their command — but that only Nusra and its Islamist ally Ahrar al-Sham were allowed to enter the base when it fell. Nusra, he said, lets groups vetted by the United States keep the appearance of independence, so that they will continue to receive American supplies.

Earlier this month I noted reports from the Los Angeles Times and McClatchy that U.S.-backed units trained under a covert CIA program were openly operating with Nusra in southern Syria while other “vetted moderate” groups who had received heavy weaponry from the U.S. were surrendering their weapons to Nusra or delivering them to another hardcore jihadist group, Ahrar al-Sham.

Perhaps even more worrying is the $500 million in weapons that the FSA has surrendered to ISIS and admissions by FSA commanders that they are operating with both Nusra and ISIS. And last week a German journalist who spent 10 days embedded with ISIS in Iraq and Syria told France24 that ISIS is obtaining weapons supplied by Western governments and being sold by the FSA:

Todenhofer went on to say that the IS militants are being armed by the West – if only indirectly – as Western moves to arm moderate Syrian rebels have backfired.

“They buy the weapons that we give to the Free Syrian Army, so they get Western weapons – they get French weapons … I saw German weapons, I saw American weapons,” he said.

“The best seller of weapons is the Free Syrian Army, which is financed by NATO, financed probably also by France, but at least by the United States.”

So it is no wonder that the administration is openly ditching the FSA.

Thus, the heart of Obama’s three-year policy in Syria has collapsed into absolute catastrophe. In an interview in August with Tom Friedman of the Times, Obama even admitted that the belief that arming the Syrian rebels would have changed the situation in Syria had “always been a fantasy.” And yet it was the fantasy they pursued.

But at the same time the Obama administration was quickly abandoning its own policy, Republican congressional leaders, namely John Boenher in the House and Mitch McConnell in the Senate, were finally buying into backing the the so-called “vetted moderates” wholesale, approving $500 million in September over the objections of sizable portions of their own caucuses in both the House and the Senate, thus necessitating Democrats support to pass the measure in the House.

Despite the wholesale turn of the FSA into the orbit of al-Qaeda, its chief congressional champion — Sen. John McCain — remains undaunted. Despite clear and undisputed evidence of the FSA working in collaboration with Nusra, and even operating U.S.-supplied heavy weapons in support of the Al-Qaeda affiliate, John McCain was meeting with FSA leaders in Turkey earlier today and calling for more U.S. support:

McCain mtg with FSA

Unfortunately for McCain, the prospects of the FSA ever recovering and being an effective fighting force against ISIS, Nusra and other jihadist groups, let alone the Assad regime, are remote at best, or as Obama himself has said, a fantasy. As even the Times now admits, the FSA is operating as a de-facto extension of al-Qaeda in Syria. And with clear supporting evidence to that effect, John McCain’s continuing call to arm and support the FSA begins to hover perilously close to material support for terrorism.

State Department Testimony: Rebels Cannot Defeat Assad

homs-syria-rebel-reutersBreitbart, by FRANCES MARTEL:

The Islamic State has gained momentum in both Syria and Iraq while allegedly “moderate” groups against President Bashar al-Assad in the former nation have suffered increasing setbacks. With the outlook dire, even the U.S. State Department is admitting that a military overthrow of Assad appears far from a viable reality.

Speaking to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, senior State Department official Brett McGurk said the State Department “do not see a situation in which the rebels are able to remove [Assad] from power,” instead noting that Assad’s removal would have to be a “democratic” process.

The admission raises questions regarding President Obama’s continued push to arm and support “moderate” rebels against Assad, citing the use of chemical weapons against civilians, among other human rights violations. The President initially allowed for weapons to reach Syrian rebels who were considered “moderate” in June 2013, in response to allegations and accrued evidence that Assad had used chemical weapons against civilians. At the time, a poll found that 70% of Americans opposed the President’s action.

A year later, Assad appeared nowhere closer to falling, yet the President once again called arming moderate rebels– this time engaging Congress. The President and Congress finally agreed to a $500 million program to train and arm rebels vetted to be moderate.

At the moment, the program is not expected to begin until March, according to Foreign Policy. It aims to train 5,000 rebels per year, but many have criticized it as a slow reaction to a crisis that is bleeding millions of refugees into the outside world a day, not counting those displaced within Syria. A particularly troubling report this week from McClatchyindicates that there is currently little to no support to rebels on the ground from the United States at all– many rebel leaders say they have received nothing– leaving unanswered questions as to where the funding has been going.

Meanwhile, both Assad and the Islamic State have been making gains, as well as the Syrian jihadist group the Al Nusra Front. Al-Nusra, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda, alleged this week that they had used a United Nations vehicle in a terrorist attack in Syria, a milestone for the group’s fight against the West. In Jordan and Afghanistan, the Islamic State’s popularity is only growing, posing the serious danger of a new influx of foreign jihadis into the Syrian war theater.

President Assad remains in power, with increasing confidence. In a recent interview with Paris Match magazine, Assad went so far as to blame the United States for the creation of ISIS, and call airstrikes against ISIS targets within Syria by US and coalition forces “illegal,” despite the consensus that they have helped his army. Of his own rule, Assad remained confident that “we as Syrians will never accept that Syria become a western puppet state”– which is to say, accept his removal from power as long as the United States has a role to play.

The situation leaves reasonable doubt regarding the potential for rebel groups to remove Assad, making McGurk’s comments an almost necessary reality from the State Department. Nonetheless, such comments do not appear to be currently interfering with President Obama’s plans to spend $500 million on training and arming rebels that even his State Department see little potential for victory in.

Also see:

Iran and US Fighting On Same Side Rattles Israeli Defense Officials

by Yaakov Lappin
Special to IPT News
December 11, 2014

1065 (1)Confirmation that Iran has joined the air campaign against Islamic State (IS) terrorists in Syria won muted praise from U.S. officials last week. And that development has increased anxiety among Israeli defense officials that budding cooperation between Tehran and Washington will lead to dangerous comprises about Iran’s nuclear program and inadequate action confronting the Islamic Republic’s global terrorist network.

The biggest threat from that network lies just over Israel’s northern border in Lebanon.

On Sunday, according to international media reports, Israeli Air Force jets bombed targets in and around Damascus. The strikes likely targeted advanced weapons that were destined for Hizballah depots in southern Lebanon, often hidden in apartment buildings in Shi’ite villages.

With more than 100,000 rockets and missiles, Hizballah has the largest arsenal of any terrorist organization in the world, and its heavy involvement in the Syrian civil war on behalf of dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime is giving it plenty of experience in ground warfare.

Israel did not confirm any involvement in the recent air strikes, but it is deeply involved in a covert war against an international Iranian-led weapons smuggling network that is designed to provide Hizballah and other radical terror entities around the Middle East with an array of sophisticated arms.

This network is run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, which oversees the smuggling of powerful weapons to Hizballah in Lebanon, often via Syria. The Iranian network also attempts to send arms to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, to radical Shi’ite militias in Iraq that fight the Islamic State, and to Shi’ite Houthi rebels that have taken over Yemen’s capital.

Iran’s Quds Force and Hizballah, both backers of the Assad regime, have set up terrorism sleeper cells around the Middle East and beyond, according to Israeli intelligence assessments. Some of these cells are routinely activated and ordered to strike Israeli and Jewish targets.

Israeli intelligence agencies quietly work to stop the planned attacks, any one of which, if successful, could spark a wider regional conflict.

Meanwhile, Tehran continues to pursue a nuclear program and develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

According to international media reports, Israel targeted shipments of Hizballah-bound weapons in Syria five times in 2013, and once in Lebanon in 2014. This has led Hizballah to retaliate by planting two bombs on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon appeared to hint at Israel’s role in the latest Syria strikes, by saying that “those who seek to arm Israel’s enemies will know that we can reach anywhere, at any time, and through any means to thwart their plans.”

As this covert, high-stakes struggle continues to rage against the background of Iran’s creeping nuclear program, a growing number of Israeli defense officials are expressing concern that the Obama administration may be willing to cooperate with Iran and its radical Shi’ite allies in the war against the Islamic State.

The officials stress the flourishing defense ties between Israel and the U.S., which are absolutely vital for Israeli security, and express gratitude for continuous American defense assistance.

However, some have become highly critical of the way the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State sees Iran as a de facto member.

Israeli defense officials wonder out loud whether the West, led by the U.S., is falling into a dangerous trap, by teaming up with the radical Shi’ite axis in the Middle East.

To be sure, no one within the Israeli defense establishment doubts the need to tackle the Sunni Islamic State. Israel is quietly providing any assistance necessary to the anti-ISIL coalition.

Yet it is the prospect of tactical cooperation between the U.S. and Iran against IS, and the danger that the cooperation could lead to Western concessions to Iran over its nuclear program that haunts some.

The failure by Washington to take tangible steps against Iran’s global terrorism network is also a source of concern. This network is growing in Syria, along with Iran’s presence there, and over the past 12 months, all of the cross-border terror attacks launched from Syria into northern Israel have been the work of elements linked to either Hezbollah or Iran, one senior military official has said.

These worries seem to be bolstered by comments like those recently made by Secretary of State John Kerry, who welcomed Iranian air strikes on Islamic State positions in Iraq, describing them as “positive.”

Unlike the Islamic State, the Shi’ite radical axis enjoys state sponsorship from an Islamic Republic that is three to six months away from nuclear weapons.

This situation makes it a more urgent problem for global security, and would seem to justify a stance that views both radical Sunnis and radical Shi’ites as threats to international peace.

Driven by an extremist religious-ideological doctrine, the Iranian-led axis views moderate Sunni governments which partner with the West – like Egypt and Jordan – as enemies, seeks to push American influence out of the Middle East, and promotes the idea of Iranian hegemony as a first step to establishing eventual Iranian global dominance.

Iran views itself as the authentic Islamic caliphate, and seeks to export its influence as far as possible. Eventually, it would like to fuel conflict across the region through its proxies under a nuclear umbrella.

“The success of the Iranian revolution influences to this day the ambition for an Islamic caliphate,” Ya’alon said this month, in an attempt to illustrate the imminent danger posed by Iran’s role in the world.

Disappointment in Israel has been expressed over what one official said was the West’s “support” for radical Shi’ites, and its willingness to ignore Iranian threats.

Israeli officials, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have expressed concern about the U.S. agreeing to a “bad deal” with Iran over its nuclear program since talks started. Thus far, those fears have not yet been realized.

The Tel Aviv-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center published a report last week that explicitly warned about Iranian-American cooperation against IS, which it said could occur at Israel’s expense.

“Despite Iran’s basic hostility towards the United States, and despite Iran’s subversion of American interests in the Middle East, it might collaborate with the United States against ISIS and the global jihad in Syria and Iraq, the common enemy,” the reportsaid. “Such collaboration might occur at Israel’s expense and harm its vital interests (for example, Iran’s concessions on the nuclear issue). In addition, collaborating against ISIS might increase Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq, and might also strengthen Hizballah’s status in Lebanon, possibly strengthening the Iranian-led radical camp in the Middle East.”

The report is another signal of concerns in Jerusalem that Washington’s war on IS could lead it to make concessions to Tehran on a nuclear program.

Such an outcome would entrench and legitimize Iran’s position as a state on the threshold of nuclear arms possession, an outcome that, in Jerusalem’s eyes, would jeopardize both regional and international security to an unacceptable degree.

Yaakov Lappin is the Jerusalem Post’s military and national security affairs correspondent, and author of The Virtual Caliphate (Potomac Books), which proposes that jihadis on the internet have established a virtual Islamist state.

What is hiding behind Islamic State?

Photo: Press Association

Photo: Press Association

Chatham House, December 2014, Volume 70, Number 6, by Nadim Shehadi – h/t Fortuna’s Corner

In early 18th-century Aleppo there was a schism in the Greek Orthodox Church, and a new sect emerged called the Melkite Church, in communion with Rome. The Melkites, also called Greek Catholics, needed their own church, but it was illegal to build a new church in the lands of the Ottoman Empire; however, if a Christian church already existed, it was protected and it was forbidden to tear it down.

To build their church, the Melkites resorted to a trick that is practised to this day and that may help explain the complex phenomenon that we call Islamic State. The illegal new church was built in hiding, inside a hangar or a large barn, away from the eyes of the law and of rival sects. After a while the Melkites were betrayed and the barn had to be torn down, revealing a fully built church. Once it was out in the open, the church acquired legitimacy and permanency.

This practice is still followed in some slums and refugee camps where only temporary structures with tin or corrugated iron roofs are allowed. To get round this law, homes with solid roofs are built underneath the canopy of a temporary roof; after a while, the tin roof is removed. Once these solid homes are in the open, they are subject to different laws and are de facto recognized.

Islamic State is in fact such a barn or tin roof under which are hiding a complex set of forces; they would be illegal if they tried to consolidate their power over a territory but they will have to be recognized once the roof is removed.

One element is the General Military Council for Iraqi Revolutionaries, former Ba’ath Party officers from Saddam Hussein’s disbanded army with over thirty years of experience ruling the land. Many have been in hiding or in exile, given sanctuary and support by the Syrian regime.

Another important element is the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, a Sufi order which is powerful in the region and with connections that are not well understood. They include senior members of the AK party of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Muslim clergy in Syria and Lebanon.

The third element are Sunni tribes in the western provinces of Iraq who are disaffected with the policies of Shia hegemony of the former prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, and bitter at being abandoned by the Americans with whom they collaborated to get rid of Al-Qaeda in Iraq during the ‘Surge’ in 2007-08. Some of the reported massacres in western Iraq, brutal as they are, may have more to do with Ba’ath-style re-establishment of control in these provinces than with what we think of as the jihadism of Islamic State.

These disaffected Sunnis are the real forces hiding inside the barn. They have local support and connections that may explain the speed with which they took over territory; they may be led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, second in command in Saddam’s regime and the King of Spades in the US’s deck of cards. He is described as the hidden sheikh of the Naqshbandi order.

The fourth element – the one everyone can see – is composed of the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq most of whom have been released or escaped from Syrian and Iraqi jails. These had played an important role in destabilizing Iraq in 2006/7, a role facilitated by the Syrian regime.

This element, joined by foreign fighters, is the barn inside which the rest of that toxic mixture of disaffected groups is hidden. The purported Salafi Islamist creed of Islamic State is incompatible with the other elements within it: the secular nationalism of the Ba’athists is anathema to the so-called caliphate proclaimed by Islamic State; Sufis such as the Naqshbandis are considered heretics and apostates; and tribal leaders are always wary of losing followers to cults.

Islamic State has been described as a virtual entity, its visibility a product of a sophisticated media strategy designed to make it seem like the fount of all evil. This propaganda campaign created the barn and at the same time created the urge to destroy it.

There is much confusion about Islamic State in international policy circles and better understanding of the phenomenon is crucial. All the opposing forces in the region have suddenly found themselves on the same side against Islamic State. In this new alignment, some voices are calling for western re-engagement with the Assad regime in Syria and a shift away from America’s traditional allies among the Gulf states in favour of Iran. The US Vice-President Joe Biden expressed this confusion publicly when he said that US allies were part of the problem.

If some of the forces incorporated in Islamic State represent legitimate elements of Sunni grievance, then focusing on the ‘caliphate’ as the ultimate enemy is diverting attention from two important causes of Sunni radicalization: one is the revolt in Syria, where the regime is now free to barrel bomb its cities and the rebels feel abandoned by the West. The second is the Iranian-sponsored militias such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and many more in Iraq which are now tacitly accepted by the US as part of the fight against Islamic State and have a free hand in their offensives against the Sunni population.

These militias in Iraq, clones of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, have undermined the US-trained Iraqi army. With the army now barely operational, these militias are at the forefront of the fight against Islamic State. Like an arsonist posing as a firefighter, Iran and Syria are now proposing themselves as part of the solution to a problem they helped to create.

The Americans are not blameless. The increase in radical elements in Iraq is also to a large extent a consequence of three decisions taken by the Americans after the invasion of Iraq: The disbanding of the Iraqi army which left its officers outside the system; the crippling of state institutions through the wholesale de-Ba’athification process; and the timing and manner of US withdrawal, which left a vacuum to be filled by Iran.

The moral of the story is that fighting Islamic State in alliance with Iran and Assad is futile: it will increase grievances and exacerbate the problem. What is required is to address these grievances by protecting the Syrian population from the regime and curbing the power of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraq and the rest of the region.

The US, instead of defusing Sunni-Shia tension, is sending an inflammatory message: that it is ready to work with Assad and Iran to fight Islamic State and, while engaging with Iran on the nuclear issue, it will disregard Tehran’s power plays in the region.

Engagement should be with the real forces which operate under the cover of Islamic State; these include some unpalatable elements but evidence suggests that they have gained ground for a reason, and if that reason is not addressed they will gain even more.

US-Backed Syrian Rebels Ally with Al-Qaeda in South, Surrender CIA-Supplied Weapons in the North

Syrian rebels pause for prayers in Dara province, in the country's south, in the spring, in an opposition-provided photo. Rebels in the province are fighting to hold onto a strategic crossroads. (Syrian Revolution Against Bashar Assad) http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-syria-south-violence-20141130-story.html

Syrian rebels pause for prayers in Dara province, in the country’s south, in the spring, in an opposition-provided photo. Rebels in the province are fighting to hold onto a strategic crossroads. (Syrian Revolution Against Bashar Assad)
http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-syria-south-violence-20141130-story.html

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, December 2, 2014:

For months I’ve been reporting here at PJ Media about the ongoing cooperation between US-backed “vetted moderate” Syrian rebel units and designated terrorist groups ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria. This includes U.S.-backed rebel units who have defected wholesale to ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

Despite multiple reports of this cooperation, in September the congressional GOP leadership jumped on board with Obama’s proposal to spend an additional $500 million to arm and train the “vetted moderates” just weeks before the Obama administration abandoned the Free Syrian Army that had been the primary beneficiary of U.S. support for the past three years.

Now reports this weekend indicate growing cooperation between U.S.-backed rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra operating in southern Syria.

According to the LA Times:

Opposition activists reported intensified government bombardment in and around Sheik Maskin and the arrival of battle-tested loyalist reinforcements.

Fighting along with U.S.-backed rebels were elements of Al Nusra Front, the official Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

In a Facebook posting, Al Nusra supporters reported “vicious battles” in the Sheik Maskin area. Earlier posts also eulogized a prominent Al Nusra commander, Abu Humam Jazrawi, who was killed in the fighting.

Al Nusra’s participation illustrates how Western-supported rebel groups often cooperate with the Al Qaeda franchise, though both sides try to play down the extent of coordination. Recent clashes between Al Nusra Front and U.S.-backed rebels in northwestern Syria do not appear to have broken the de facto alliance between the Al Qaeda affiliate and West-backed fighters in the south. (emphasis added)

Meanwhile, in northern Syria as “vetted moderate” groups were forming an umbrella with hardcore jihadist groups, such as Ahrar al-Sham, other U.S.-backed units were surrendering to Jabhat al-Nusra (a trend I noted last month) and turning over their CIA-provided arms to Ahrar al-Sham, McClatchy reports:

On Friday, as the groups were meeting here, the Nusra Front stormed the bases of two moderate rebel groups in Syria’s north: the Ansar Brigades in Idlib and the Haqq Front in Hama. The two groups, both of which were receiving U.S. support through a covert CIA program, surrendered to Nusra, delivered their weapons to Ahrar al Sham and returned to their homes. (emphasis added)

And today Syria analyst Aron Lund noted that the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army signed an agreement last week with Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham for the Qalamoun area near the Lebanese border guaranteeing the imposition of sharia and creating a mutual defense pact.

The “vetted moderate” follies continue.

Qatar Said To Run A Covert Training Camp For Syrian Rebels With U.S. Help

Soldiers walk at a Turkish military outpost overlooking the Syrian city of Kobani, on a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Soldiers walk at a Turkish military outpost overlooking the Syrian city of Kobani, on a hilltop outside Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Huffington Post, By Amena Bakr, 11/26/2014

DOHA, Nov 26 (Reuters) – At a desert base, Gulf state Qatar is covertly training moderate Syrian rebels with U.S. help to fight both President Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State and may include more overtly Islamist insurgent groups, sources close to the matter say.

The camp, south of the capital between Saudi Arabia’s border and Al Udeid, the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East, is being used to train the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other moderate rebels, the sources said.

Reuters could not independently identify the participants in the program or witness activity inside the base, which lies in a military zone guarded by Qatari special forces and marked on signposts as a restricted area.

But Syrian rebel sources said training in Qatar has included rebels affiliated to the “Free Syrian Army” from northern Syria.

The sources said the effort had been running for nearly a year, although it was too small to have a significant impact on the battlefield, and some rebels complained of not being taught advanced techniques.

The training is in line with Qatar’s self-image as a champion of Arab Spring uprisings and Doha has made no secret of its hatred of Assad.

Small groups of 12 to 20 fighters are identified in Syria and screened by the Central Intelligence Agency, the sources said.

Once cleared of links with “terrorist” factions, they travel to Turkey and are then flown to Doha and driven to the base.

GROUND FORCE

“The U.S. wanted to help the rebels oust Assad but didn’t want to be open about their support, so to have rebels trained in Qatar is a good idea, the problem is the scale is too small,” said a Western source in Doha.

The CIA declined to comment, as did Qatar’s foreign ministry and an FSA spokesman in Turkey.

It is not clear whether the Qatari program is coordinated with a strategy of Western and Gulf countries to turn disparate non-Islamist rebel groups into a force to combat the militants.

Such efforts have been hampered by Western hesitancy about providing significant military aid, because it could end up with extremists. Gulf states dislike the West’s emphasis on fighting Islamic State. Assad is the bigger problem, they say.

“Moderate rebels from the FSA and other groups have been flown in to get trained in things like ambush techniques,” said a source close to the Qatari government who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the topic.

“The training would last a few months, maybe two or three, and then a new group would be flown in, but no lethal weapons were supplied to them,” one of the sources said.

SCREENING PROCESS

As the war against Assad has dragged on, frustrated rebels asked their trainers for more advanced techniques, such as building improvised explosive devices (IEDs), requests which were always denied.

“They complain a lot and say that going back they need more weapons or more training in IEDs but that’s not something that’s given to them,” said a Qatar-based defense source.

The Qatar project was conceived before the declaration of the hardline Islamic State, when militants belonging to its predecessor organization were not regarded as an international security threat.

The group’s rise in Syria and Iraq has hampered the rebellion: Moderate groups cannot fight Assad when the better-armed Islamic State seeks their destruction as it strives to build its “caliphate.”

In recent weeks, the Qataris, disappointed by lack of progress in the fight against Assad, have started to consider training members of the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist rebels less militant than Islamic State or the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, but stronger than the FSA.

None have been trained as yet, but Qatar has sought to identify candidates, the sources say.

Some analysts say screening Islamic Front fighters would be harder than FSA rebels, since some Islamists have switched between various groups.

ISLAMIST NETWORK

Training fighters from Islamic groups could displease fellow Gulf state the United Arab Emirates, which dislikes Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood’s international Islamist network.

But Saudi Arabia, which shares the UAE’s mistrust of the Brotherhood, is more indulgent of moderate Islamist forces when it comes to fighting Assad, diplomats say.

Asked about the Qatari training, a Saudi defense source said: “We are not aware of this training camp, but there’s one thing we agree on: Assad needs to go and we would not oppose any action taken towards that goal.”

To Qatar, ousting Assad remains a priority and youthful Emir Sheik Tamim has said that military efforts to tackle Islamic State will not work while the Syrian president remains in power.

A source who works with rebel groups said Qatar had delivered weapons, mostly mortar bombs, to the Islamic Front and some FSA brigades about two months ago and had paid some salaries for Islamic Front groups.

(Additional reporting by Dasha Afanasieva in Istanbul and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by William Maclean and Giles Elgood)

The Real Turkish Agenda…

ISIS Study Group , November 21, 2014:

Recent reporting has shown that the Erdogan government is still pushing for the PKK to accept the cease-fire they originally agreed to after having been targeted in Turkish military operations last month. The PKK has vehemently denied agreeing to turn their weapons and themselves over to the Turkish government, not that we’re surprised or anything.

PKK rules out government’s talk of disarmament
http://www.todayszaman.com/national_pkk-rules-out-governments-talk-of-disarmament_364726.html

erdogan 33
Erdogan: Really a “generous” kind of guy
Source: Associated Press

One would think that the Turkish Army would’ve taken action in Kobani in light of the death and destruction the Islamic State (IS) has waged along the border. Instead they launched operations against Pehsmerga forces in the village of Daglica, located in the Turkish part of the tri-border region shared with Iraq and Iran. As we’ve predicted, the Turkish military waited until the joint-PKK/YPG Peshmerga forces were degraded to a certain point before launching operations – possibly part of a bid towards establishing that buffer zone they’ve been talking so much about. Other reporting coming out of Turkey last month described clashes taking places in the Tunceli-area of Turkey involving Turkish forces and the PKK. The Turkish government claims their operations are in response to the PKK attacking one of their outposts in the area, but we’re not so sure that’s the real reason for the operations.

Turkish jets bomb Kurdish PKK rebels near Iraq
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29611582

Is Turkey a Reliable Partner In The Fight Against ISIS?
http://isisstudygroup.com/?p=1916

turkish air force
Turkish F4s (pictured above) and F16s participated in the OPs against the PKK
Source: BBC

The fact that Erdogan is more concerned with ousting the Assad regime should’ve been the first red-flag to the US government when it was framing it’s pseudo-strategy to combat IS, but it would appear this is a case of incompetent analysts working the problem-set or a senior leadership willfully ignoring the recommendations of said analysts. We suspect that it’s the latter in this case since we personally know several analysts who are working the problem-set. They’ve voiced to us their frustrations at being ignored by decision-makers who would prefer to be told “what they want to hear” instead of what they need to hear. Had they listened to their analysts, they would know that Turkey isn’t a dependable ally (and we use the term quite loosely here), and is operating on their own agenda that’s to our detriment. Even after the Erdogan government initially came out with their public statement denying they’re allowing the US military to use their air bases to launch airstrikes against IS, the US government continues to insist that it can get Turkey to get involved and target IS. Unfortunately, the US government’s drumbeat being fed to the mainstream media doesn’t mirror reality. In fact, the much-vaunted “Anti-IS Coalition” appears to be every bit the “Coalition of the Reluctantly Willing” that we’ve assessed it to be.

Read more

***

Erdogan: Turkey the Hope of All Peoples in the Region, We Will Be the Architect of a New Middle East

Published on Nov 18, 2014 by MEMRITVVideos

In an October 13, 2014 speech given at Marmara University, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denounced what he claimed was the continued efforts by Western powers to divide the Middle East. He claimed that the hopes of the peoples of the region lie, once again, with Turkey as it was during the days of the Ottoman Empire.

Also see:

Jabhat al-Nusra Squeezes Out U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels

JABHAT-AL-NUSRAIPT, by John Rossomando:

Gains by al-Qaida linked Jabhat al-Nusra in northwestern Syria threatens to leave the U.S. with few options on the ground in that region.

Jabhat al-Nusra recently attacked and overran Harakat al-Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) led by Jamal Maarouf, two key American aligned militias that the Obama administration saw as key parts of its strategy against the Islamic State (IS).

Maarouf fled to Turkey and no longer has any brigades in the area around Idlib, located in northwestern Syria near the Turkish border. He previously proclaimed his solidarity with Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in a January Twitter post.

“The front of the Syrian revolutionizes, The Islamic Front, and Jabhat al-Nusra, Muhajreen and Ansar, we are all in the fighting front together against the regime. What happened now is a fitna (strife), God damn who ignited it,” Maarouf wrote.

Al-Nusra also killed a commander belonging to the Free Syrian Army’s Dawn of Freedom Brigades in the fighting.

Jabhat al-Nusra confiscated heavy gear and weapons that the West had provided to its allies.

The Islamist group decided to attack the U.S.-backed rebel groups after the Obama administration bombed its fighters and those belonging to IS. This decision also opened the way to an agreement between Al-Nusra and IS to cooperate in destroying Maarouf’s faction.

President Obama said in September that a “moderate” force would be created and that their first targets were jihadists.

The U.S.-led coalition, along with “U.S. spies,” aim to eliminate all Islamic factions that “do not comply with Western policy,” Al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani said in the Al-Monitor story.

“We have made the decision to cancel the SRF,” Golani said.

This opens the way for the al-Qaida linked group to carve out an Islamic emirate in the area around Idlib.

It hopes that such an emirate would increase its credibility among global jihadists and compete with the Islamic State to attract new fighters. Jabhat al-Nusra already has created its own courts in towns surrounding Idlib, an area isolated from direct contact with Assad’s forces and from those with the Islamic State.

The U.S.-aligned rebels blamed the Obama administration for their failures. Although President Obama promised to arm the “moderate” Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State and the Assad regime, supplies trickled in, slowed in part by bureaucracy.

“We decide on the mission that we want to do. Then we apply to the operations room for the weapons. If they agree with our military plan, some weapons arrive,” a commander calling himself Abu Ahmed told the Daily Telegraph. “If we receive TOW anti-tank missiles, we have to film every time we use one to prove we haven’t sold it on.”

Abu Ahmed also complained that other FSA units didn’t come to help, fearing Al-Nusra would attack them too.

The U.S.-backed rebels have also witnessed a stream of defections to Al-Nusra and IS.

The Obama Administration’s Strategic Schizophrenia

obamasCSP, By Kyle Shideler:

Last week in the Wall Street Journal it was reported that the Obama administration sought an agreement on fighting ISIS with Iran:

The correspondence underscores that Mr. Obama views Iran as important—whether in a potentially constructive or negative role—to his emerging military and diplomatic campaign to push Islamic State from the territories it has gained over the past six months. Mr. Obama’s letter also sought to assuage Iran’s concerns about the future of its close ally, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, according to another person briefed on the letter. It states that the U.S.’s military operations inside Syria aren’t targeted at Mr. Assad or his security forces.

It is now being reported that the same administration believes ISIS cannot be defeated without overthrowing Assad:

President Barack Obama has asked his national security team for another review of the U.S. policy toward Syria after realizing that ISIS may not be defeated without a political transition in Syria and the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, senior U.S. officials and diplomats tell CNN. The review is a tacit admission that the initial strategy of trying to confront ISIS first in Iraq and then take the group’s fighters on in Syria, without also focusing on the removal of al-Assad, was a miscalculation. In just the past week, the White House has convened four meetings of the President’s national security team, one of which was chaired by Obama and others that were attended by principals like the secretary of state. These meetings, in the words of one senior official, were “driven to a large degree how our Syria strategy fits into our ISIS strategy.”

The contradiction between these two policies should be obvious, as Iran has expended ample time, funds, and men (primarily through proxy forces like Hezbollah and other Shia militias) to keep Assad in power. In fact overthrowing Assad would by necessity require the targeting and destruction of some of the very same forces that the Obama administration envisioned fighting ISIS on our behalf in Iraq.

The administration’s utter strategic incoherence is founded on an unwillingness to comprehend what drives both the Iranian aims (through proxies in Iraq and Syria), as well as the forces arrayed against them.  As we have repeatedly pointed out here on the Free Fire blog (See here, here, and here), the Syrian opposition is dominated by Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda-allied Islamist militias connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Obama Administration’s policy for Syria has involved alternatively partnering with these Islamists, while also bombing certain units of them during the course of the air campaign against ISIS. All sides in the current regional conflict are motivated by the same ideological agenda, establishing their hegemony in the region in order to extend (their particularly sectarian brand) of Islamic law, and to use future gains as a base for further jihad against their enemies, including principally the United States. Whether the U.S. attempts to partner with Iran against ISIS, or Al Qaeda against ISIS, or the Muslim Brotherhood against Al Qaeda, or Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood against Iran, every permutation will result in the same eventual outcome. Victory for enemies of the United States.

The Obama administration has prided itself on it’s attention to “nuance”. In its dealings in the Middle East, it has repeatedly attempted to tease out differences and distinctions that are at best irrelevant, leading to the construction of a world view that is ultimately divorced from reality in any meaningful way. The result is that this Administration finds itself simultaneously on all sides, and still the wrong sides, of every strategic challenge.

The Beltway’s Syria Fairy Tales

pic_giant_111114_SM_Syria-Civil-WarNational Review, By Andrew C. McCarthy, Nov. 11, 2014:

Since the outbreak of the latest Middle East war a few years back, we have been chronicling the Washington political class’s Syria Fairy Tales. In particular, there is the story line that Syria is really teeming with secular democrats and authentic moderate Muslims who would have combined forces to both overthrow Assad and fight off the jihadists if only President Obama had helped them. But his failure to act created a “vacuum” that was tragically filled by Islamist militants and gave rise to ISIS. At this point in the story, you are supposed to stay politely mum and not ask whether it makes any sense that real democrats and actual moderates would agree to be led by head-chopping, mass-murdering, freedom-stifling sharia terrorists.

In point of fact, there simply have never been enough pro-Western elements in Syria to win, no matter how much help came their way. There was never going to be a moderate, democratic Syrian state without a U.S. invasion and occupation for a decade or more, an enterprise that would be politically untenable — and, as the Iraq enterprise shows, unlikely to succeed. The “moderate rebels” had no chance against Assad unless they colluded with the Islamist militants, who are vastly superior and more numerous fighters. And they would have even less chance of both knocking off Assad and staving off the jihadists.

The Obama administration and the Beltway commentariat have done their best to obscure these brute facts. Their main tactic is to exploit the American public’s unfamiliarity with the makeup of Syria. Obama Democrats and much of the Beltway GOP continue to invoke the “moderate Syrian rebels” while steadfastly refusing to identify just who those purported “moderates” are.They hope you won’t realize that, because of the dearth of actual moderate Muslims and freedom fighters, they must count among their “moderate rebels” both the Muslim Brotherhood (which should be designated as a terrorist organization) and various other Islamist factions, including . . .  wait for it . . . parts of al-Nusra — i.e., al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise.

We’ve also noted that a new wrinkle has recently been added to the Beltway’s Syria Fairy Tales: Obama’s Khorasan Fraud. In a desperate attempt to conceal the falsity of Obama’s boasts about destroying what is actually a resurgent al-Qaeda, the administration claimed that the threat to America that impelled Obama to start bombing Syria was not ISIS (supposedly just a “regional” threat), not al-Qaeda (already defeated, right?), but a hitherto unknown terrorist organization called the “Khorasan group.”

To the contrary, the Khorasan group, to the extent it exists at all, has never been a stand-alone terrorist organization. It is an internal component of al-Qaeda — specifically, an advisory board (or, in Islamic terms, a shura council) of al-Qaeda veterans who advise and carry out directives from Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s emir. During the fighting in Syria, some of these operatives were sent there by Zawahiri to conduct operations under the auspices of al-Nusra. These operations have included jihadist activity against both the United States and Assad allies, plus negotiations for a rapprochement with the Islamic State (or ISIS). The limited success of those negotiations has led to fighting among the jihadists themselves.

The ball to keep your eye on here is al-Qaeda. The al-Nusra terrorist group is just al-Qaeda in Syria. Even ISIS is just a breakaway faction of al-Qaeda. And the Khorasan group is just a top-tier group of al-Qaeda veterans doing al-Qaeda’s work in conjunction with al Nusra — i.e., al-Qaeda.

The Obama administration disingenuously emphasizes these various foreign names to confuse Americans into thinking that there are various factions with diverse agendas in Syria — that al-Qaeda is no longer a problem because Obama has already dealt with it, and what remains are sundry groups of “moderate rebels” that the administration can work with in the effort to vanquish ISIS. Meanwhile, you are supposed to refrain from noticing that Obama’s original Syrian project — remember, he wanted Assad toppled — has given way to fighting ISIS . . . the very Sunni jihadists who were empowered by Obama’s lunatic policies of (a) switching sides in Libya in order to support the jihadists against Qaddafi and (b) abetting and encouraging Sunni Muslim governments in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey to arm Sunni militias in the fight against Assad — those militias having all along included al-Qaeda elements, some of which split off to become ISIS and now threaten to bite off the very hands that once fed them.

If you thought the Khorasan fraud was just a passing fad to get Obama through the initial stages of trying to rationalize his incoherent Syria air campaign, think again.

You see, Obama continues to have a problem. Everyone knows that ISIS, the main target of U.S. bombings in Syria and Iraq, cannot be defeated — or even stalled much — by a mere air campaign, which has been half-hearted at best anyway. Ground forces will be needed. So the administration and Washington’s foreign-policy clerisy keep telling Americans: Never fear, there is no need for U.S. ground troops, because we can rely on “moderate rebels” to fight ISIS. But the so-called “moderates” Obama backs have been colluding with al-Qaeda (i.e., al-Nusra) for years — at least when not being routed by al-Qaeda/al-Nusra.

Now, the sensible thing at this point would be to concede that there are no viable moderate forces in Syria, and that it would be folly for us to continue pretending those forces either exist or will materialize anytime soon. But no, that would be honest . . . which is not the Obama way — nor, frankly, is it the Washington way — to end our willful blindness to the lack of moderation among Middle Eastern Muslims.

So if honesty is not an option, what to do? Simple: Let’s just pretend that al-Nusra — part of the al-Qaeda network we have been at war with for 13 years — is, yes,moderate!

But wait a second? How can we possibly pull that off when we know al-Nusra/al-Qaeda is also plotting to attack the United States and the West?

Easy: That’s why we have the “Khorasan group”!

I kid you not. Even as al-Nusra/al-Qaeda mow down any “moderate rebels” who don’t join up with them, the Obama administration is telling Americans, “No, no, no: The al-Nusra guys are really good, moderate, upstanding jihadists. The real problem is that awful Khorasan group!”

Tom Joscelyn and Bill Roggio have the story at The Long War Journal:

CENTCOM draws misleading line between Al Nusrah Front and Khorasan Group

US Central Command [CENTCOM] attempted to distinguish between the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, and the so-called Khorasan Group in yesterday’s press release that detailed airstrikes in Syria.

CENTCOM, which directs the US and coalition air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, denied that the five airstrikes targeted “the Nusrah Front as a whole” due to its infighting with the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front, but instead claimed the attacks were directed at the Khorasan Group.

“These strikes were not in response to the Nusrah Front’s clashes with the Syrian moderate opposition, and they did not target the Nusrah Front as a whole,” CENTCOM noted in its press release.

The CENTCOM statement goes a step further by implying that the Al Nusrah Front is fighting against the Syrian government while the Khorasan Group is hijacking the Syrian revolution to conduct attacks against the West.

“They [the US airstrikes] were directed at the Khorasan Group whose focus is not on overthrowing the Assad regime or helping the Syrian people,” CENTCOM continues. “These al Qaeda operatives are taking advantage of the Syrian conflict to advance attacks against Western interests.”

[Emphasis added.]

Read Tom and Bill’s entire report, which sheds light on the web of jihadist connections.

Understand, the Khorasan group is al-Nusra, which is al-Qaeda. The “moderate Syrian rebels” are neither moderate nor myopically focused on Assad and Syria. (Indeed, Syria does not even exist as the same country anymore, now that ISIS has eviscerated its border with Iraq while capturing much of its territory.) The overarching Islamic-supremacist strategy of al-Qaeda has never cared about Western-drawn borders. The ambition of al-Qaeda, like that of its breakaway ISIS faction, is to conquer both the “near” enemies — i.e., the Middle East territories not currently governed by its construction of sharia — and the West. Al-Qaeda (a.k.a. al-Nusra, a.k.a. the Khorasan group) wants to overthrow Assad, but it still regards the United States as its chief nemesis.

The Khorasan group exists only as an advisory group around Zawahiri. The Obama administration’s invocation of it to divert attention from al-Qaeda and launder al-Nusra into “moderate Syrian rebels” is sheer subterfuge.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s

ISIS and Al Qaeda Ready to Gang Up on Obama’s Rebels

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At a secret meeting in Syria brokered by the dreaded Khorasan group, the terrorist rivals discussed a merger.
By Jamie Dettmer:
ISTANBUL—Jihadi veterans known collectively as the Khorasan group, which have been targeted in two waves of airstrikes by U.S. warplanes, are trying to broker an alarming merger between militant archrivals the Islamic State and Jabhat al Nusra, the official Syrian branch of al Qaeda.
The merger, if it comes off, would have major ramifications for the West. It would reshape an already complex battlefield in Syria, shift forces further against Western interests, and worsen the prospects for survival of the dwindling and squabbling bands of moderate rebels the U.S. is backing and is planning to train.

“Khorasan sees its role now as securing an end to the internal conflict between Islamic State and al Nusra,” says a senior rebel source. The first results are already being seen on the ground in northern Syria with a coordinated attack on two rebel militias favored by Washington.

All three of the groups involved in the merger talks—Khorasan, Islamic State (widely known as ISIS or ISIL), and al Nusra—originally were part of al Qaeda. Khorasan reportedly was dispatched to Syria originally to recruit Westerners from among the thousands of jihadi volunteers who could take their terror war back to Europe and the United States. But among ferocious ideologues, similar roots are no guarantee of mutual sympathy when schisms occur.

Current and former U.S. officials say they are unaware of any cooperation between ISIS and al Nusra, and they doubt that a merger or long-term association could be pulled off. “I find it hard to believe that al Nusra and Islamic State could sink their differences,” says a former senior administration official. “The rift between them is very deep,” he adds.

But senior Syrian opposition sources say efforts at a merger are very much under way and they blame Washington for creating the circumstances that make it possible. Moderate rebels accuse the Obama administration of fostering jihadi rapprochement by launching ill-conceived airstrikes on al Nusra while at the same time adamantly refusing to target the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the U.S. military intervention in the region.

This, they say, has created the opening for a possible understanding between the jihadists and is creating sympathy for al Nusra. Other Islamist rebels and the wider population in insurgent-held areas in northern Syria question American motives and designs and remain furious at the U.S. decision not to help topple Assad.

“Al Nusra knows more airstrikes are coming, so why wait,” says an opposition source. If the Americans are going to lump them together with ISIS, maybe best to join forces. “What made the possibility of their coming together are the airstrikes.”

The opposition sources, who agreed to interviews on the condition they not be identified, warn that mounting cooperation between the two jihadist groups already is evident in specific operations.

Read more at The Daily Beast

Also see:

Inside the CIA’s Syrian Rebels Vetting Machine

A Free Syrian Army fighter in Aleppo. Hosam Katan/Reuters

A Free Syrian Army fighter in Aleppo. Hosam Katan/Reuters

By Jeff Stein:

Nothing has come in for more mockery during the Obama administration’s halting steps into the Syrian civil war than its employment of “moderate” to describe the kind of rebels it is willing to back. In one of the more widely cited japes, The New Yorker’s resident humorist, Andy Borowitz, presented a “Moderate Syrian Application Form,” in which applicants were asked to describe themselves as either “A) Moderate, B) Very moderate, C) Crazy moderate or D) Other.”

After Senator John McCain unwittingly posed with Syrians “on our side” who turned out to be kidnappers, Jon Stewart cracked, “Not everyone is going to be wearing their ‘HELLO I’M A TERRORIST’ name badge.”

Behind the jokes, however, is the deadly serious responsibility of the CIA and Defense Department to vet Syrians before they receive covert American training, aid and arms. But according to U.S. counterterrorism veterans, a system that worked pretty well during four decades of the Cold War has been no match for the linguistic, cultural, tribal and political complexities of the Middle East, especially now in Syria. “We’re completely out of our league,” one former CIA vetting expert declared on condition of anonymity, reflecting the consensus of intelligence professionals with firsthand knowledge of the Syrian situation. “To be really honest, very few people know how to vet well. It’s a very specialized skill. It’s extremely difficult to do well” in the best of circumstances, the former operative said. And in Syria it has proved impossible.

Daunted by the task of fielding a 5,000-strong force virtually overnight, the Defense Department and CIA field operatives, known as case officers, have largely fallen back on the system used in Afghanistan, first during the covert campaign to rout the Soviet Red Army in the 1980s and then again after the 2001 U.S. invasion to expel Al-Qaeda: Pick a tribal leader who in turn recruits a fighting force. But these warlords have had their own agendas, including drug-running, and shifting alliances, sometimes collaborating with terrorist enemies of the United States, sometimes not.

“Vetting is a word we throw a lot around a lot, but actually very few people know what it really means,” said the former CIA operative, who had several postings in the Middle East for a decade after the 9/11 attacks. “It’s not like you’ve got a booth set up at a camp somewhere. What normally happens is that a case officer will identify a source who is a leader in one of the Free Syrian Army groups. And he’ll say, ‘Hey…can you come up with 200 [guys] you can trust?’ And of course they say yes—they always say yes. So Ahmed brings you a list and the details you need to do the traces,” the CIA’s word for background checks. “So you’re taking that guy’s word on the people he’s recruited. So we rely on a source whom we’ve done traces on to do the recruiting. Does that make sense?”

No, says former CIA operative Patrick Skinner, who still travels the region for the Soufan Group, a private intelligence organization headed by FBI, CIA and MI6 veterans. “Syria is a vetting nightmare,” he told Newsweek, “with no way to discern the loyalties of not only those being vetted but also of those bringing the people to our attention.”

A particularly vivid example was provided recently by Peter Theo Curtis, an American held hostage in Syria for two years. A U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) unit that briefly held him hostage casually revealed how it collaborated with Al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front, even after being “vetted” and trained by the CIA in Jordan, he wrote in The New York Times Magazine.

“About this business of fighting Jabhat al-Nusra?” Curtis said he asked his FSA captors.

“Oh, that,” one said. “We lied to the Americans about that.”

Read more at Newsweek

The Clearing of the Pawns

Members of Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra pose for a picture at a checkpoint at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing in Syria Photo: MOLHEM BARAKAT/REUTERS

Members of Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra pose for a picture at a checkpoint at the Karaj al-Hajez crossing in Syria Photo: MOLHEM BARAKAT/REUTERS

CSP, By Kyle Shideler:

It is now being reported that Al Qaeda’s Syrian group, the Al Nusra Front has accepted the surrender of the U.S.-Armed Harakat Hazm (HZM), and effectively neutralized the Syrian Revolutionary Front (SRF) by seizing it’s remaining bases. As the UK Telegraph notes:

For the last six months the Hazm movement, and the SRF through them, had been receiving heavy weapons from the US-led coalition, including GRAD rockets and TOW anti-tank missiles.
But on Saturday night Harakat Hazm surrendered military bases and weapons supplies to Jabhat al-Nusra, when the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria stormed villages they controlled in northern Idlib province.
The development came a day after Jabhat al-Nusra dealt a final blow to the SRF, storming and capturing Deir Sinbal, home town of the group’s leader Jamal Marouf. The attack caused the group, which had already lost its territory in Hama to al-Qaeda, to surrender.

According to reports, HZM surrendered its positions to Al Nusra and turned over its U.S.-provided arsenal without offering any resistance. Harakat Hazm has never been shy about fighting alongside Al Nusra, as one fighter proclaimed to the LA Times less than a month ago, “But Nusra doesn’t fight us, we actually fight alongside them. We like Nusra.” This coziness with al Qaeda is something that investigative reporter Patrick Poole has repeatedly noted, and raises the question of whether these surrogates upon which President Obama’s Syria and anti-ISIS strategy depends were ever really “our surrogates” to begin with? The, admittedly pro-Assad, Beirut paper Al-Akbar has claimed that HZM was explicitly created by the Muslim Brotherhood, and with the support of Turkey and Qatar, in order to serve as a recipient of U.S. aid.

Whether HZM was a Muslim Brotherhood front designed to fool the West from day one, or whether they simply lack the strength to continue resisting Al Nusra, the result is the same.  SRF and HZM  have now being cleared from the board, rendering painfully obvious what should have been clear some time ago. There is no force of “moderation” capable of ruling an intact Syria. U.S. airstrikes cannot defeat ISIS alone, and could not, even were they not hamstrung by a gun shy Administration that insists on controlling every aspect of the air war from the White House. Further escalation, through “boots on the ground” is, as reporter Michael Totten has noted,  a political non-starter, and for very good reason.  The idea that a force of Syrians can be extracted from Syria, tabula rasa, and then reinserted a few years later once they’ve been adequately armed and trained, as some have proposed, is a flight of fancy.  The future of Syria is likely to be decided between Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Assad regime, backed by Iran and Hezbollah.

Recognizing our lack of pieces to move should be the first step in crafting a new strategy, one which takes into account not just Syria, but the whole rapidly changing face of the region.

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