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.

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