Congress’ Support of Syrian Rebels Fraught With Danger

A free Syrian Army fighter runs to avoid sniper fire (Photo: © Reuters)

A free Syrian Army fighter runs to avoid sniper fire (Photo: © Reuters)

BY RYAN MAURO:

The U.S. Congress has approved the Obama Administration’s plan to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State terrorist group. The plan is fraught with danger and the Congress must ensure that five steps are taken to minimize its risks.

1. Create a Secular-Democratic Force

The U.S. must recognize that every existing rebel group, including the much-touted Free Syria Army, includes an Islamist component. It is against Western interests to support Islamist radicals and they are not worthy of American taxpayer money.

The bill “requires that opposition groups be vetted for associations with terrorist groups, Shia militias aligned with or supporting the government of Syria, and groups associated with the government of Iran, including, but not limited to: ISIL [the Islamic State]; Jabhat al Nusrah; other al-Qaeda related groups; and Hezbollah.”

The weak standard is that rebels must not be linked to the Assad regime (which Syrian rebels are not by definition) and Al-Qaeda affiliates, which presumably includes Ahrar al-Sham whose leadership has had high-level Al-Qaeda ties.

Over a dozen of Ahrar al-Sham’s leaders were killed in a suicide bombing recently, presumably carried out by the Islamic State. Leaders of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic Front, a coalition of Syrian Islamist rebels,  mourned them.  Its new leader previously led a Free Syria Army unit.

So who can the U.S. pick as an ally?

In April 2013, the New York Times reported, “Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of.” As of June 2013, 10 of 12 rebel groups were Islamist.

The most obvious candidates are the Kurds who have proven so reliable and effective in Iraq. They have defeated Al-Nusra in battle. Kurds also fought Islamist Kurds aligned with Al-Qaeda (the Islamic Kurdish Front), Ahrar al-Sham and the Qatar-backed Ahfad al-Rasoul militia.

“We as Kurds are usually secularists, and the reason for that is the injustice that we suffered through Islamic history, and certainly we would be against any new Caliphate project,” said the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria.

Kurds are only about 10% of the Syrian population so their reach is limited. Other non-Kurdish groups must be assessed.

Read more at Clarion Project

Syrian Brotherhood Stands Nearer to ISIS Than to U.S.

by Ravi Kumar
IPT News
September 16, 2014

1063While the United States tries to build a coalition of Arab allies to join the fight against the terrorist group ISIS, now known as the Islamic State, one group which stands to benefit directly is coming out against Western intervention and expressing unity with other radical jihadists.

A Syrian Muslim Brotherhood spokesman says attacks on the Islamic State by the United States and its allies are not the answer.

“Our battle with ISIS is an intellectual battle,” Omar Mushaweh said in a statement published Sept. 9 on the Syrian Brotherhood’s official website, “and we wish that some of its members get back to their sanity, we really distinguish between those in ISIS who are lured and brainwashed and they might go back to the path of righteous, and between those who has foreign agendas and try to pervert the way of the [Syrian] revolution.”

Rather, the first target for any Western intervention should be dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Mushaweh asserts, according to a translation of his comments by the Investigative Project on Terrorism.

Such comments should reinforce Western concerns about the Syrian Brotherhood, whose members are prominent among the Free Syrian Army (FSA), one of the supposedly moderate factions in the Syrian civil war which receive U.S. training and weapons. And it shows the challenge of finding truly moderate allies on the ground in Syria. Compared to ISIS, the FSA might be considered moderate. Then again, ISIS was so ruthlessly violent that al-Qaida disavowed the group in February.

In addition, the Syrian Brotherhood openly mourned the death last week of a commander in Ahrar Al Asham, a Syrian faction with ties to al-Qaida.

Mushaweh’s views about the U.S. intervention are shared by other Brotherhood members. Another Brotherhood leader, Zuher Salem, minimized the ISIS threat by comparing current American rhetoric to that which preceded the 2003 Iraq invasion.

“All of these tales that are being told by America about the primitive, terrorist and threatening nature of the Islamic State are similar to the tales that have been told in regard to the Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, and about the crimes against humanity,” Salem wrote in an article published Sept. 13 by the Arab East Center, a think tank associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. “It is trifling to race with others to condemn terrorism and the killing of the American journalist, because we should be aware the aim of this anti ISIS coalition is to pave the way for an Iranian hegemony over the region.”

Yusuf Al Qaradawi, an influential Brotherhood cleric living in Qatar, joined in criticizing the American military campaign against ISIS. “I totally disagree with [ISIS] ideology and means,” he wrote on Twitter, “but I don’t at all accept that the one to fight it is America, which does not act in the name of Islam but rather in its own interests, even if blood is shed.”

While both are Sunni Muslim movements, each seeking to establish a global Islamic Caliphate, ISIS views the Brotherhood as too passive, while the Brotherhood sees ISIS as being unnecessarily violent in pursuing its aims.

The two have common enemies, however, including the ruling regimes of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan, which have worked to cripple the Brotherhood, and which ISIS considers infidel regimes which should be toppled in pursuit of a broader Islamic Caliphate.

In another indication the Syrian Brotherhood is no moderating force, it issued a statement on its website Sept. 10 mourning the killing of Ahrar Al Asham leader Hassan Aboud in a suicide bombing.

“Syria has given a  constellation of the best of its sons, and the bravest leaders of the Islamic front and Ahrar Al Sham,” the head of the Brotherhood’s political bureau, Hassan Al Hashimi, said in the statement translated by the IPT. “We consider them Martyrs.”

Ahrar Al Sham is a radical group co-founded by Abu Khaled al-Suri, who was al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s designated representative in Syria. Al-Suri was killed in February in a suicide bombing believed to be carried out by ISIS.

Aboud made clear his ideological links to al-Qaida clear in a July 2013 Twitter post. “May God have mercy on the Mujahid Sheikh Abdullah Azzam. He was a scholar of Jihad and the morality.” Azzam was considered a mentor to Osama bin Laden, and pushed conspiracy theories involving Jewish and Christian plots against Islam.

The Brotherhood official mourning Aboud, Al Hashimi, has visited the United States a couple of times since the Syrian civil war started.

1064He spoke at the controversial Dar al-Hijrah mosque in northern Virginia on Nov. 17, 2013, as part of a program organized by the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF). The SETF has worked closely with Muslim Brotherhood members and some of its officials have expressed anti-Semitic statements and solidarity with Hamas.

Still, the SETF has partnered with the State Department to implement training projects in Syria. Last December, the SETF’s executive director endorsed working with a coalition of Syrian opposition groups called the Islamic Front, even though several entities involved, including Ahrar Al-Sham, had fought with ISIS and the radical Jabhat al-Nusra, or al-Nusra Front. Four Islamic Front affiliates also endorsed a declaration calling for “the rule of sharia and making it the sole source of legislation” in a post-Assad Syria.

The announcement of the event was distributed to the Dar Al Hijrah mailing list, but without mentioning that Al Hashimi is the head of the political bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Syrian Rebels: We’ll Use U.S. Weapons to Fight Assad, Whether Obama Likes It or Not

1410538345073.cachedBy Josh Rogin:

President Obama has reversed course, and is finally promising to openly arm the moderate Syrian opposition. But he wants the rebels to use those weapons to fight only ISIS, not the Bashar al-Assad regime. The Syrian rebels plan to use them to fight both at the same time.

For the Free Syrian Army, the loose conglomeration of opposition fighters that are not extremists and not aligned with the Assad regime, the war against ISIS began long before President Obama’s prime time speech Wednesday night. They have been battling ISIS for a year and fighting the Assad regime for over three years. For all that time, they have been begging the United States to send them weapons, but the CIA program to arm them has been extremely limited. They are getting beaten on both fronts, badly.

“Because of our failure [the rebels] have been so badly harmed and so many killed,” said Sen. John McCain, a longtime advocate for intervening in the Syrian conflict. “The blood is on their hands, the responsibility for the casualties that they have suffered unnecessarily, the responsibility lies with the president.”

In the administration’s haste to now throw military support behind the rebels, they are now committing to fighting alongside a force that is fighting Assad, possibly drawing the U.S. directly into the Syrian civil war.

After two years of rejecting calls from his own national security team to arm the FSA, President Obama announced Wednesday night that he now wanted to arm the FSA to fight against the terrorists who are on the march in Syria and Iraq. He said the only way to beat ISIS was to train and equip the moderate rebels—the same rebels he ignored for so long—and he called on Congress to authorize the mission.

“In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its people; a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost,” Obama said, using an alternate acronym for ISIS. “Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday that Obama wanted to wage war only against ISIS, not the regime in Damascus. After all, Syria is still technically a sovereign U.N. member state and the U.S. thinks the regime will be needed to negotiate the political solution to the civil war Obama mentioned.

“What the president is focused on right now, and the authorization that he feels he has under the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, is to take the steps that are necessary to prevent ISIL from establishing a safe haven in Syria, and succeed in degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL,” he said.

But the Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army aren’t waiting for legal authorization to fight the Damascus regime; they are getting bombarded by Assad’s Syrian Arab Army every day, as it continues to commit mass murder of Syrian civilians through the siege of major cities, the dropping of barrel bombs, and the continued use of chlorine gas to kill innocents, according to international monitors.

“The fight against ISIS is one part of a multi-front war in Syria. The brutal rule and poor governance of the Assad regime generated the conditions for ISIS become the global threat that it is today,” Syrian National Coalition President Hadi AlBahra told The Daily Beast on Thursday.

He added, “Airstrikes on ISIS strongholds in Syria are a much-needed element to degrade the extremist group’s capabilities. To be effective, strikes must be accompanied by well-equipped and trained military forces on the ground. We therefore welcome the commitment to intensify the train-and-equip program to enable the Free Syrian Army to eradicate ISIS and other forms of terror in Syria, including the Assad regime.”

Read more at Daily Beast

Yet Another U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group Makes Peace with ISIS

free-syrian-army-2011-11-2 (1)PJ Media, By Patrick Poole:

Obama’s hope to do anything of substance in Syria took another severe blow yesterday as the U.S.-backed and armed Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) struck a peace deal with ISIS, according to both Arabic and English language news reports.

The SRF had only a few months ago been deemed by the U.S. foreign policy establishment as “the West’s best fighting chance against Syria’s Islamist armies.”

Now AFP reports:

Syrian rebels and jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have agreed a non-aggression pact for the first time in a suburb of the capital Damascus, a monitoring group said on Friday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the ceasefire deal was agreed between ISIS and moderate and Islamist rebels in Hajar al-Aswad, south of the capital.

Under the deal, “the two parties will respect a truce until a final solution is found and they promise not to attack each other because they consider the principal enemy to be the Nussayri regime.”

Nussayri is a pejorative term for the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.

According to media reports, other groups joining the ceasefire with ISIS include Liwa Ahrar Turkman al-Golan, Liwa Hittin and Liwa al-Umma al-Wahida.

When seeking U.S. heavy weapons, including TOW anti-tank missiles, SRF commander Jamal Maroof was full of bravado, declaring war against ISIS. In May, McClatchy reported that SRF and other “vetted moderate rebel” groups had received TOW missiles from the U.S. and posted videos of their use.

But as soon as weapons were being delivered to Maroof’s SRF forces, he was giving interviews to Western media making clear that “al-Qaeda is not our problem.”

A May 2014 report by Jenan Moussa of Al-Aan notes that Maroof runs SRF in a cave with his three wives and children:

 

During that interview where Maroof talks about receiving U.S. military aid and his soldiers receiving U.S. training, there is one curious artifact in the background:

vlcsnap-2014-09-13-12h57m59s111-1024x576

The SRF’s ceasefire with ISIS puts yet another nail in the coffin of the claims by the U.S. foreign policy establishment that there are “vetted moderate” Syrian “rebels” that we can rely upon.

As I’ve reported here at PJ Media over the past week, the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army is operating openly with ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the official al-Qaeda affiliate, in certain areas. I also noted an L.A. Times article last Sunday where a reporter traveling with fighters from the U.S.-backed and armed Harakat al-Hazm, one of the first groupsto receive U.S. heavy weapons, was told that the group fights alongside Jabhat al-Nusra. And earlier this week I reported on a statement by a Free Syrian Army commander admitting his group is in an alliance with ISIS fighting near the border with Lebanon.

As Congress takes up a bill to fund Obama’s plan to arm and train so-called “vetted moderate” Syrian “rebels,” even some analysts are beginning to admit that finding the right allies in Syria will be difficult. With the State Department’s disastrous record so far of identifying “vetted moderate rebel” groups who refuse to ally with al-Qaeda and ISIS, and ISIS leaders openly bragging about the U.S. arming and training rebels groups that have now defected to ISIS, some prudent caution on the part of Congress is in order before throwing more money and weapons into Syria and Iraq.

***

Daniel Greenfield comments on the SRF:

Once you get the TOW milk, you no longer need the American cow.

The SRF is yet another Free Syrian Army orbital coalition composed of assorted Islamic Jihadist militias. Maroof’s Syrian Martyrs Brigade is described as secular, but its name and logo quickly give the lie to that.

It’s backed by Saudi Arabia and it supposedly had some success against ISIS, but it’s also widely been accused of being mercenary, which means that expecting it to seriously put itself on the line is delusional.

It’s still basically Islamist and appears to be more opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood than to Al Qaeda because that’s who its Saudi bosses were worried about at the time. It casually switches up allegiances, like much of the Syrian opposition, making it something between a menace and worthless. Giving it TOW missiles was a clearly stupid move.

Also see:

Obama Pushes U.S. Deeper Into Middle East to Fight Islamic State

President Obama Addresses the Nation on the ISIL Threat

FULL WH TRANSCRIPTION OF SPEECH HERE

By CAROL E. LEE and JULIAN E. BARNES:

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama authorized the start of U.S. airstrikes in Syria and expanded a monthlong bombing campaign in Iraq to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic militants who recently beheaded two Americans.

The decisions, outlined Wednesday in a prime-time address to the nation on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, considerably deepen U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. They also mark an acknowledgment by Mr. Obama that the intensity of the threat from the militant group Islamic State requires the type of long-term, open-ended conflict he has resisted since taking office—and which he campaigned for the White House saying he would avoid.

In asking Americans to support another military incursion in the Middle East, Mr. Obama said his strategy to combat Islamic State, also called ISIS and ISIL, would be bolstered by a coalition of Arab and European nations. His plan builds on his authorization in August of airstrikes in Iraq to protect American personnel threatened by Islamic State and to provide humanitarian assistance to besieged Iraqis.

Mr. Obama said the U.S. goal now is to help Iraqis reclaim large swaths of territory the group has rapidly overtaken in recent months since spilling over from its stronghold in neighboring Syria. His speech paves the way for the first U.S. strikes at the group’s bases and havens in Syria.

“America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat,” Mr. Obama said in remarks from the White House. “I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

The president gave no timetable for the new, U.S.-led fight against what he described as “a terrorist organization” with members “unique in their brutality.”

In addition to launching airstrikes against the militants in Syria, Mr. Obama pledged a new dose of support for moderate Syrian fighters also battling the extremist group. Taken together, the steps draw the U.S. closer toward the volatile Syrian civil war and open a new front for American efforts in the region.

Saudi Arabia has offered to host a U.S.-run training facility for moderate Syrian rebels, U.S. and Arab officials said. The facility is expected to be able to handle as many as 10,000 fighters, but details are still being worked out, the officials said.

Read more at WSJ

Also see:

 

‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Commander Admits Alliance with ISIS, Confirms PJ Media Reporting

As-Iraq-Burns-US-Plans-500-Million-to-Terrorists-in-Syria-610x400

This is what the D.C. foreign policy establishment has reduced itself to when it comes to Syria — cozying up to al-Qaeda (or Iran and Assad) in the name of “countering violent extremism,” namely ISIS, and entertaining each other with cocktail party talk of “moderate wings” of al-Qaeda. As my colleague Stephen Coughlin observes, our bipartisan foreign policy establishment has created a bizarre language about Iraq and Afghanistan to avoid the stark reality that we lost both wars. This is the state American foreign policy finds itself in on the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda.

PJ Media, By Patrick Poole, September 10, 2014:

As President Obama laid out his “strategy” last night for dealing with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and as bipartisan leadership in Congress push to approve as much as $4 billion to arm the Syrian “rebels,” it should be noted that the keystone to his anti-Assad policy — the “vetted moderate” Free Syrian Army (FSA) — is now admitting that they, too, are working with the Islamic State.

This confirms our reporting about the FSA’s alliances with Syrian terrorist groups here at PJ Media last week.

On Monday, the Daily Star in Lebanon quoted a FSA brigade commander saying that his forces were working with the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate — both U.S.-designated terrorist organizations — near the Syrian/Lebanon border.

“We are collaborating with the Islamic State and the Nusra Front by attacking the Syrian Army’s gatherings in … Qalamoun,” said Bassel Idriss, the commander of an FSA-aligned rebel brigade.

“We have reached a point where we have to collaborate with anyone against unfairness and injustice,” confirmed Abu Khaled, another FSA commander who lives in Arsal.

“Let’s face it: The Nusra Front is the biggest power present right now in Qalamoun and we as FSA would collaborate on any mission they launch as long as it coincides with our values,” he added.

In my report last week I noted that buried in a New York Times article last month was a Syrian “rebel” commander quoted as saying that his forces were working with ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra in raids along the border with Lebanon, including attacks on Lebanese forces. The Times article quickly tried to dismiss the commander’s statements, but theDaily Star article now confirms this alliance.

Among the other pertinent points from that PJ Media article last week was that this time last year the bipartisan conventional wisdom amongst the foreign policy establishment was that the bulk of the Syrian rebel forces were moderates, a fiction refuted by a Rand Corporation study published last September that found nearly half of the Syrian “rebels” were jihadists or hard-core Islamists.

Another relevant phenomenon I noted was that multiple arms shipments from the U.S. to the “vetted moderate” FSA were suspiciously raided and confiscated by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, prompting the Obama administration and the UK to suspend weapons shipments to the FSA last December.

In April, the Obama administration again turned on the CIA weapons spigot to the FSA, and Obama began calling for an additional $500 million for the “vetted moderate” rebels, but by July the weapons provided to the FSA were yet again being raided and captured by ISIS and other terrorist groups. Remarkably, one Syrian dissident leader reportedly told Al-Quds al-Arabi that the FSA had lost $500 million worth of arms to rival “rebel” groups, much of which ended up being sold to unknown parties in Turkey and Iraq.

At the same time U.S.-provided FSA weapons caches were being mysteriously raided by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the senior FSA commanders in Eastern Syria, Saddam al-Jamal, defected to ISIS. In March, Jabhat al-Nusra joined forces with the FSA Liwa al-Ummah brigade to capture a Syrian army outpost in Idlib. Then in early July I reported on FSA brigades that had pledged allegiance to ISIS and surrendered their weapons after their announcement of the reestablishment of the caliphate. More recently, the FSA and Jabhat al-Nusra teamed up last month to capture the UN Golan Heights border crossing in Quneitra on the Syria/Israel border, taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

But the Free Syrian Army is not the only U.S.-armed and trained “rebel” force in Syria that the Obama administration is having serious trouble keeping in the “vetted moderate” column.

Earlier this week I reported on Harakat al-Hazm, which was the first of the “vetted moderates” to receive U.S. anti-tank weaponry earlier this year. Harakat al-Hazm isreportedly a front for the Muslim Brotherhood as well as  Turkey and Qatar, its Islamist state sponsors.

An LA Times article published this past Sunday from the battle lines in Syria where their reporter recounted a discussion with two Harakat al-Hazm fighters who admitted, “But Nusra doesn’t fight us, we actually fight alongside them. We like Nusra.”

Despite a claim by the L.A. Times that Harakat al-Hazm had released a statement of “rejection of all forms of cooperation and coordination” with al-Nusra Front, I published in my article earlier this week an alliance statement signed by both Jabhat al-Nusra and Harkat al-Hazm forging a joint front in Aleppo to prevent pro-Assad forces from retaking the town.

As the Obama administration began to provide heavy weaponry to Harakat al-Hazm, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy published an analysis hailing Harakat Hazm as “rebels worth supporting,” going so far as to say that the group was “a model candidate for greater U.S. and allied support, including lethal military assistance.”

That error was not as egregious as the appeal by three members of the DC foreign policy establishment “smart set” (including one former senior Bush administration National Security Council official) who argued in the pages of the January issue of Foreign Affairs for U.S. engagement with another Syrian “rebel” group, Ahrar al-Sham.

At the time their article appeared, however, Ahrar al-Sham was led by one of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s top lieutenants and former Bin Laden courier, Mohamed Bahaiah (aka Abu Khaled al-Suri). This is why the article was originally subtitled “An Al-Qaeda affiliate worth befriending.” Giving too much of the game away for non-Beltway types, that subtitle was quickly changed on the website to “An Al-Qaeda-linked group worth befriending.”

That dream of “befriending al-Qaeda” was dealt a major blow earlier this week when a blast of unknown origin killed most of Ahrar al-Sham’s senior leadership. Bereft of leadership, many analysts have rightly expressed concern that the bulk of Ahrar al-Sham’s forces will now gravitate towards ISIS and other terrorist groups.

While a McClatchy article on the explosion laughably claimed that the dead Ahrar al-Sham’s leaders represented the group’s “moderate wing” who were trying to come under another fictional “vetted moderate” alliance to obtain the next anticipated flood of U.S. weapons, others have observed that tributes to the dead leaders have poured in from al-Qaeda leaders for their “moderate wing” allies.

This is what the D.C. foreign policy establishment has reduced itself to when it comes to Syria — cozying up to al-Qaeda (or Iran and Assad) in the name of “countering violent extremism,” namely ISIS, and entertaining each other with cocktail party talk of “moderate wings” of al-Qaeda. As my colleague Stephen Coughlin observes, our bipartisan foreign policy establishment has created a bizarre language about Iraq and Afghanistan to avoid the stark reality that we lost both wars. This is the state American foreign policy finds itself in on the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda.

As congressional Republicans and Democrats alike will undoubtedly rush in coming days to throw money at anyone the Obama administration deems “vetted moderates” to give the appearance of doing something in the absence of a sensible, reality-based strategy for understanding the actual dynamics at work in Syria and Iraq, an urgent reexamination of who the “vetted moderates” we’ve been financing, training and arming is long overdue. It is also essential to know to whom the State Department hascontracted the “vetting.” This is especially true as ISIS leaders are openly bragging about widespread defections amongst FSA forces that have been trained and armed by the U.S. to ISIS.

Predictably, the usual suspects (John McCain and Lindsey Graham) who have been led wide-eyed around Syria by the “vetted moderate” merchants and have played the administration’s “yes men” for a fictional narrative that has never had any basis in reality will undoubtedly hector critics for not listening to their calls to back the “vetted moderate” rebels last year when they could have contained ISIS — an inherently false assumption. These usual suspects should be ashamed of their role in helping sell a fiction that has cost 200,000 Syrians their lives and millions more their homes while destabilizing the entire region. Shame, sadly, is a rare commodity in Washington, D.C.

Notwithstanding Obama’s siren call for immediate action, Congress should think long and hard before continuing to play along with the administration and D.C. foreign policy establishment’s “vetted moderate” fairy tale and devote themselves to some serious reflection and discussion on how we’ve arrived at this juncture where we are faced with nothing but horribly bad choices and how to start walking back from the precipice. As we remember the thousands lost on that terrible day thirteen years ago, truly honoring their memory deserves nothing less.

Fighter With ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebels Tells L.A. Times They Fight Alongside Al-Qaeda

cid_image004_jpg01cf1b3cBy Patrick Poole:

Last week here at PJ Media, I reported on the ongoing relations between the U.S.-backed “vetted moderate” Free Syrian Army and ISIS. I also noted that, at this time last year, the received wisdom of the Washington, D.C. foreign policy establishment was that the Syrian rebels were largely moderate.

Now, a report in this past Sunday’s L.A. Times from the frontlines in Syria finds that another “vetted moderate” rebel group, Harakat Hazm – which has received anti-tank missiles from the U.S. — has been working with al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra: a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. (HT: Tim Furnish and Tom Joscelyn.)

As Al-Akhbar reported back in May, in addition to having U.S. backing, Harakat Hazm is also backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey, and Qatar.

As the L.A. Times reporter rides with two U.S.-backed and armed Harakat Hazm fighters, the topic of conversation turns to Jabhat al-Nusra:

Harakat Hazm, for example, has struggled with being regarded as a U.S. pawn and labeled as secular in the midst of an opposition movement that has grown increasingly Islamist.

“Inside Syria we became labeled as secularists and feared Nusra Front was going to battle us,” Zeidan said, referring to an Al Qaeda-linked rebel group that has been designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. Then he smiled and added, “But Nusra doesn’t fight us, we actually fight alongside them. We like Nusra.”

But the L.A. Times reporter then immediately adds:

In July, eight West-backed rebel brigades — all recipients of military aid — released a statement of “rejection of all forms of cooperation and coordination” with Al Nusra Front.

But at the same time Harakat Hazm was supposedly releasing a statement of “rejection of all forms of cooperation and coordination” with Nusra, it signed a statement of alliance with Nusra to prevent the Assad regime from advancing into Aleppo. The alliance statement was published on Twitter:

What the statement and the Aleppo alliance demonstrate is something that I and others have been contending all along: the so-called Syrian rebels given the State Department’s “vetted moderate” imprimatur have been playing a double-game. And the Obama administration, the foreign policy establishment and the establishment media have all gladly played along with our “vetted moderate” Syrian rebel allies.

Read more at PJ Media

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Moderate Syrian Rebel Application Form by Andy Borowitz at The New Yorker

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—After announcing, on Thursday, that it would seek $500 million to help “train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the moderate Syrian armed opposition,” the White House today posted the following Moderate Syrian Rebel Application Form:

Welcome to the United States’ Moderate Syrian Rebel Vetting Process. To see if you qualify for $500 million in American weapons, please choose an answer to the following questions:

As a Syrian rebel, I think the word or phrase that best describes me is:

A) Moderate
B) Very moderate
C) Crazy moderate
D) Other

I became a Syrian rebel because I believe in:

A) Truth
B) Justice
C) The American Way
D) Creating an Islamic caliphate

If I were given a highly lethal automatic weapon by the United States, I would:
A) Only kill exactly the people that the United States wanted me to kill
B) Try to kill the right people, with the caveat that I have never used an automatic weapon before
C) Kill people only after submitting them to a rigorous vetting process
D) Immediately let the weapon fall into the wrong hands

I have previously received weapons from:
A) Al Qaeda
B) The Taliban
C) North Korea
D) I did not receive weapons from any of them because after they vetted me I was deemed way too moderate

I consider ISIS:
A) An existential threat to Iraq
B) An existential threat to Syria
C) An existential threat to Iraq and Syria
D) The people who will pick up my American weapon after I drop it and run away

Complete the following sentence. “American weapons are…”
A) Always a good thing to randomly add to any international hot spot
B) Exactly what this raging civil war has been missing for the past three years
C) Best when used moderately
D) Super easy to resell online

Thank you for completing the Moderate Syrian Rebel Application Form. We will process your application in the next one to two business days. Please indicate a current mailing address where you would like your weapons to be sent. If there is no one to sign for them we will leave them outside the front door.

(H/T Andrew Bostom)

Attack ISIS in Syria Even If It Helps Assad

islamic-state-flag-plane-apCenter for Security Policy, by Fred Fleitz:

Three questions are being raised by pundits and politicians about how Iran and Syria’s Assad regime should figure into possible military action by the United States and its allies against ISIS — the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIL and the Islamic State.

  • Is it a mistake to attack ISIS in Syria since ISIS is also an enemy of the Assad regime and such attacks may ensure Assad holds on to power?
  • Should the U.S. team up with the Assad regime to attack ISIS in Syria?
  • Should the U.S. work with Iran to destroy ISIS?

Some are arguing we should not bomb ISIS in Syria because that would strengthen Assad. Others argue since the ISIS threat is so dire, we should work with Assad to destroy it.

A few believe we should work with Iran against ISIS.

These difficult questions reflect how messy the situations in Iraq and Syria have become as a result of numerous policy mistakes by the United States and Europe over the last few years.

Doing anything to prop up the brutal Assad dictatorship is obviously an unpalatable course of action. Some experts have proposed clever ways to prevent the Syrian army from benefiting from U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in Syria by also bombing Syrian airfields and attacking the Syrian army and Iranian-backed militias to buy time to train and arm the moderate Syrian rebels of the Free Syrian Army — FSA.

Such proposals are fantasies. Attacking the Syrian army would get the United States into a war with Syria and put U.S. planes at risk of being shot down by Syrian air defenses. Moreover, the Free Syrian Army is badly outmatched by ISIS and the Syrian army. After withholding arms since 2011 from the FSA, attempting to arm and train these rebels now to make them a force capable of taking on ISIS and the Syrian army would take many months, assuming this is even possible.

The truth is the United States and Europe effectively conceded the Syrian civil war to Assad years ago. If the West had attacked Syrian forces in 2011 when they began their bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters or created humanitarian safe zones in Syria in 2011 or 2012, the Syrian rebels may have defeated the Assad regime before it was shored up by Iran and Russia.

Given the seriousness of the ISIS threat and the likelihood that Assad is not going to be defeated, attacking ISIS in Syria even though this may benefit the Assad government is the right move. However, the U.S. should not do anything to further legitimize Assad by allying with him to defeat ISIS. We should instead warn Damascus that we will retaliate against any Syrian government attacks on Western aircraft. I believe the Assad government probably would go along with this.

There is a temptation to team up with Iran to combat ISIS.

I suspect senior Obama officials are already exploring this idea with Iranian diplomats on the margins of ongoing talks on Iran’s nuclear program. This would be a serious mistake. Iran bears significant responsibility for the outbreak of sectarian tensions in Iraq since 2011 due to its strong support for the Maliki government and by its training of Shiite militias that have massacred Iraqi Sunnis. America’s policy should be reduce Iran’s influence in Iraq and Syria and do nothing to increase its influence.

To defeat the ISIS terrorist army, the United States will need to make some difficult decisions that will have significant downsides. Boosting Assad by attacking ISIS in Syria is a price the U.S. and its allies should be prepared to pay given the situation on the ground in Syria and American and regional security interests.

That is as far as we should go.

The U.S. and its allies should not cooperate with the Syrian or Iranian government to defeat ISIS because of the destabilizing impact of such actions and to avoid legitimizing these regimes.

US-Backed Free Syrian Army Operating Openly With ISIS, Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra

640x392_25455_221535By Patrick Poole:

As the Obama administration struggles to address the threat from ISIS and plans to go to Congress in coming weeks to up its commitment against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, multiple media reports indicate that the US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) is operating openly with ISIS and other designated terrorist groups. And yet financial and military support for the FSA is the keystone to the administration’s policy in Syria.

Some background is essential.

It was just over a year ago that the Institute for the Study of War’s Liz O’Bagy was opining in the Wall Street Journal about her travels to Syria and purported discovery that the Syrian ‘rebels’ really weren’t bloodthirsty jihadists, but moderates worthy of US financial and military support – in particular, heavy weapons. Her claims about the Syrian rebels, particularly the FSA, were cited and praised by Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator John McCain.

That view, of course, quickly came crashing down as O’Bagy came under fire for failing to disclose that she was also a paid agent of a Syrian rebel front, but also that she had lied about her academic credentials. Within two weeks of her oped appearing, she was fired from the Institute for the Study of War, though she was hired two weeks later by Senator McCain as a Senate staffer.

At the same time that O’Bagy’s career was taking a hit, the narrative that the Syrian ‘rebels’ were all secular moderates was quickly collapsing. A Rand Corporation study appeared two weeks after O’Bagy’s oped saying that nearly half of the Syrian ‘rebels’ were jihadists or hardline Islamists (as if there were a discernible difference). Meanwhile, the FSA was under serious pressure from the very jihadist groups that Ms O’Bagy had assured were not a problem.

Another practical problem developed with providing weapons to the FSA. As soon as weapons shipments from the CIA were arriving in Syria, the FSA weapons caches were being raided by jihadist groups, including ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the official Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, under very suspicious circumstances. The problem got so bad that by last December, both the US and the UK had stopped weapons shipments to the FSA.

But by April of this year, the Obama adminstration’s CIA weapons spigot was turned back on, with the FSA now receiving heavy weapons, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. And in late June, President Obama asked Congress for $500 million to arm and train the FSA.

This move was not without controversy as the Syrian Military Council chief-of-staff warned that the US was circumventing the SMC and providing weapons directly to FSA units that could end up creating Afghan/Somali-style warlords in Syria. The State Department responded to that criticism assuring that the weapons were going to “moderate, vetted groups” (because, of course, the State Department has such a long illustrious history in vetting Islamic “moderates”).

The ISIS announcement of the reestablishment of the caliphate and their subsequent push further into Iraq has considerably changed the playing field and revealed the true nature of the US-backed “moderate, vetted” FSA.

Last week the Washington Post reported on the Syrian ‘rebel’ takeover of the Golan Heights Quneitra border crossing with Israel (where I reported from last year), with the ‘rebels’ capturing the UN peacekeepers stationed at the crossing. The Post noted:

The United Nations gave no further details, but an Israeli military spokesman told CNN that the captors are suspected to be members of al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been fighting alongside more-moderate, Western-backed rebels for control of the area.

The “more-moderate, Western-backed rebels” fighting alongside with Jabhat al-Nusra the Post was referring to, but didn’t dare name, was none other than the FSA.

Read more at PJ Media

Syrian Jihadis ‘Take Aim’ at Christian Toddler

513847-405x350Front Page, By Raymond Ibrahim:

According to Sham Times and other Arabic websites, jihadi social media networks posted the above picture of a child sitting on the ground while surrounded by armed men pointing their rifles at him.  The caption appearing with the picture, purportedly posted by a supporter of the Free Syrian Army, is “Our youngest hostage from among the hostile sects of Kessab.”

Kessab is a predominantly Christian Armenian village in Syria near the Turkish border.  Earlier it was invaded by jihadis, who terrorized, pillaged churches, and prompted some 2000 residents to flee.  Initial reports had stated that about a dozen families remained as hostages.

Since the picture appeared on Arabic social media, many have expressed shock and outrage, condemning the Syrian “rebels,” while others cast doubt on the authenticity of the picture.

Of course, those wondering what the jihadis have to gain from taking such a picture and making it public would do well to remember that these are the same “rebels” who decapitate people and wave their severed and bloodied heads in front of cameras while smiling; these are the same “freedom fighters” who literally eat their victims on camera.

Surely “teasing” an infidel toddler – a subhuman – with their rifles and sharing it with their sadistic comrades via the Internet for a “laugh” should not be too surprising?

At any rate, the fact remains: the “Free Syrian Army,” along with other “rebel” groups operating in Syria, are guilty of countless barbaric crimes against humanity — including against women and children.

UPDATE: Commenter LeviDocker at PJ Tatler posts a very apt excerpt from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic work, The Brothers Karamazov, which follows:

These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children, too; cutting the unborn child from the mother’s womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mothers’ eyes. Doing it before the mothers’ eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. Here is another scene that I thought very interesting. Imagine a trembling mother with her baby in her arms, a circle of invading Turks around her. They’ve planned a diversion: they pet the baby, laugh to make it laugh. They succeed, the baby laughs. At that moment a Turk points a pistol four inches from the baby’s face. The baby laughs with glee, holds out its little hands to the pistol, and he pulls the trigger in the baby’s face and blows out its brains. Artistic, wasn’t it? By the way, Turks are particularly fond of sweet things, they say.

Two Americans Arrested for Plans to Join Syrian Jihadists

Syrian rebel fighters

By Ryan Mauro:

Two Americans were arrested in the past few days as the Syrian civil war attracts Western recruits. One sought to join Hezbollah and the other took the side of an Al-Qaeda affiliate, but both believed they were fulfilling a commandment to wage jihad against the infidel.

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Syrian jihadists have a sophisticated network in America, including those favorable to Al-Qaeda-linked groups. One opposition group linked to the Muslim Brotherhood has received over $12 million in U.S. government assistance.

Another Islamist named Sheikh Osama al-Rifai has used the Syrian Sunrise Foundation to raise over $3.6 million in one tour, bringing him to Florida, Illinois, Texas, Indiana, California and Michigan. His fundraising pitch was that any donor qualifies as a “jihadist for Allah.” One event was held at the influential Mosque Foundation that is part of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood network.

In January, a terrorism-supporting imam named Sheikh Mohammad Rateb al-Nabulsi came to the U.S. to fundraise for Syrian “rebels” in 11 cities with help from a group called the Syrian American Council. One of the fundraisers was held at the Islamic Center of Passaic County in N.J. Other events took place in Florida, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Virginia.

In the 1980s, Afghanistan acted as the incubator for a generation of terrorists. It was the one spot where aspiring jihadists could go to get everything they needed, especially fighting experience. Other Muslims, innocently hoping to stop oppression, became radicalized on the battlefield.

Syria is modern-day equivalent. The civil war could end tomorrow, but the jihad it intensified will go on.

Read more at Clarion Project

Also see:

Al Nusrah Front, Free Syrian Army launch joint operation

By BILL ROGGIO:

The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, teamed up with a Free Syrian Army unit known as the Liwa al Ummah to overrun a military outpost in Idlib province last week. Free Syrian Army units continue to ally themselves with the Al Nusrah Front on the battlefield despite Al Nusrah’s public affiliation with al Qaeda.

The latest joint operations between the Al Nusrah Front and the Free Syrian Army took place on March 6, when the two groups attacked a Syrian Army outpost in the city of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province. The Al Nusrah Front announced the joint operation in a statement that was released yesterday; the statement was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The statement said that “a small group from the mujahideen of the Al Nusrah Front and Liwa al Ummah attacked the Tariq ‘Ajeeb barrier” and overran it, killing six Syrian soldiers and wounding 30 more. The Al Nusrah Front said that a tank was used by the group during the assault.

“The mujahideen took as spoils a BMP vehicle, 3 RPG launchers, a collection of light weapons, and various ammunition,” the Al Nusrah Front claimed. The two group then proceed to attack “the neighboring Ma’arzafi barrier.”

Heavy fighting has been reported in Khan Sheikhun over the past week as the Al Nusrah Front and Free Syrian Army groups have been attacking Syrian forces in the city [see video above, which shows Free Syrian Army fighters attacking Syrian troops].

The emir of the Al Nusrah Front, which was formed by al Qaeda’s branch in Iraq, publicly reaffirmed his allegiance to al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, in a statement released in April 2013. The group was added to the US’ list of Specially Designated Global Terrorist groups in December 2012. Several Free Syrian Army groups have openly joined the Al Nusrah Frontover the past year.

The Liwa al Ummah, or Brigade of the Muslim Nation, was formed by Abd al Mahdi al Harati, a deputy of Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the former emir of the al Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Al Harati, who headed a rebel group during the Libyan revolution, led Liwa al Ummah for six months in 2012 before merging with the Free Syrian Army. Liwa al Ummah is estimated to have around 6,000 fighters, and is comprised primarily of Syrians, but also includes a large contingent of Libyans, Sudanese, Palestinians, Egyptians, and Arabs.

Read more at Long War Journal

Also see:

Children Victimized by All Sides in Syrian Conflict

Assad’s army hits border areas as US, Israel, Jordan enlarge South Syrian foothold

New Syrian rebel command post at Quneitra

New Syrian rebel command post at Quneitra

DEBKAfile:

The Jordanian government Sunday, Feb. 23 vehemently denied reports that Syrian rebels were undergoing training by American and its own military instructors and being sent back to fight government forces. According to US intelligence sources, those training camps have been turning out 250 rebel fighters per course and some 1,000 trainees all told are already in action on Syria’s battlefields. The Syrian government journal Tishrin has repeatedly warned Jordan that it is “playing with fire.”

On Feb. 18, Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, quite openly visited injured Syrians at an IDF military field hospital on the Golan. They chatted with wounded rebel soldiers. But on the quiet, our sources report that they took a good look at Quneitra (pop: 10,000), which is located close to Israeli lines on the Syrian side of the enclave.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that a new Syrian rebel command center has been set up there, with the help of the US, Jordan and Israel. The CIA is investing great effort into restoring the combat capabilities of the disbanded Free Syrian Army and incorporating splinter militias likewise opposed to radical Islamist groups in a revived rebel fighting force under the command of Brig.Gen. Abdul-Illah al-Bashir

Based in the tiny Golan town of Quneitra, he has been given the grand title of “Chief of Staff of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army.”

Gen. al-Bashir defected from the Syrian army in 2012. His main qualification for the new job is his membership of the Syrian Bedouin Al Nuaim tribe, which ranges through the Golan and southern Syria. When he defected, he was followed by army officers who are fellow tribesmen.

The rebel force shaping up in Quneitra therefore consists of many indigenous fighters and a large component of local Al Nuaim tribesmen.
It is more likely than not that the new pro-American Syrian rebel force mustered under Israel’s nose is also guaranteed Israeli military insurance against a surprise attack or any hostile attempts to wipe it out. It stands to reason that this function was closely examined during the visit Israeli leaders paid to the Golan last week and is also the subject of intensive talks between Jerusalem and Washington.

But meanwhile Syrian President Bashar Assad is not standing idle.

Exactly a week ago, Saturday night, Feb. 15, the Syrian army ambushed a group of trained Syrian rebels as they crossed in from Jordan. Middle East sources reported that many were killed and others took to their heels and fled.
In the last two days, the Syrian army has moved in for an offensive on the environs of Quneitra to corner the new rebel command center. Two outlying villages, Rasm al-Hour and Rasm al-Sad, fell into the hands of government forces.

Clearly, the US-Israeli-Jordanian effort to establish a rebel-controlled border strip across the Syrian border will not be a cake walk.
Furthermore, a bomb car which exploded Sunday at the town of Atmeh on the Syrian-Iraqi border targeted a rebel-run military field hospital. At least nine people were killed.
This was another message from Damascus – this one picked up in Jerusalem that the field hospital set up on the Golan for injured Syrians is also in the sights of the Syrian army.