Trump Got This One Right

An anti-Assad militia member loads an American-made TOW anti-tank missile southeast of the city of Tal Afar. Photo credit: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP / Getty

Weekly Standard, by Thomas Joscelyn, THE MAGAZINE: From the August 7 Issue

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump was shown a disturbing video of Syrian rebels beheading a child near the city of Aleppo. It had caused a minor stir in the press as the fighters belonged to the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, a group that had been supported by the CIA as part of its rebel aid program.

The footage is haunting. Five bearded men smirk as they surround a boy in the back of a pickup truck. One of them holds the boy’s head with a tight grip on his hair while another mockingly slaps his face. Then, one of them uses a knife to saw the child’s head off and holds it up in the air like a trophy. It is a scene reminiscent of the Islamic State’s snuff videos, except this wasn’t the work of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men. The murderers were supposed to be the good guys: our allies.

Trump wanted to know why the United States had backed Zenki if its members are extremists. The issue was discussed at length with senior intelligence officials, and no good answers were forthcoming, according to people familiar with the conversations. After learning more worrisome details about the CIA’s ghost war in Syria—including that U.S.-backed rebels had often fought alongside extremists, among them al Qaeda’s arm in the country—the president decided to end the program altogether.

On July 19, the Washington Post broke the news of Trump’s decision: “a move long sought by Russia,” the paper’s headline blared. Politicians from both sides of the aisle quickly howled in protest, claiming that Trump’s decision was a surrender to Vladimir Putin.

There is no doubt that Putin, who has the blood of many Syrian civilians on his hands, was pleased by the move. But that doesn’t mean the rebel aid program was effective or served American interests.

The defenders of the CIA program argue that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) remains our best hope for a moderate opposition to Assad. But the FSA is not the single, unified organization its name implies. It is, rather, a loose collection of groups that have adopted the FSA brand, often in addition to their own names and branding. Although “Free Syrian Army” sounds secular and moderate, its constituents are ideologically diverse and include numerous extremists. Zenki, for example, was referred to as an FSA group well after its hardline beliefs were evident, and few FSA groups could be considered truly secular. Several prominent FSA organizations advocate Islamist ideas, meaning they believe that some version of sharia law should rule Syrian society.

To make matters worse: FSA-affiliated rebels have often been allied with Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria. Some of the most prominent FSA groups, indeed, objected to the U.S. government’s decision to designate Nusra as a terrorist organization in December 2012. Al Qaeda’s Syrian arm was even then strong enough to command loyalty in the face of American sanctions. There have been episodic clashes between Nusra and America’s FSA allies, but more often than not FSA-branded rebels have been in the trenches alongside Nusra’s jihadists.

Jabhat al-Nusra, publicly an arm of al Qaeda until July 2016, has been the single strongest organization within the insurgency for some time. Well before President Trump was inaugurated, Nusra had grown into a menace. And America’s provision of arms to FSA-branded rebels worked to Nusra’s advantage—an inconvenient fact for those criticizing the president’s decision.

Russia intervened in Syria in September 2015, and the timing was not accidental. Just months earlier, in March, the “Army of Conquest” took over the northwestern province of Idlib. This rebel coalition was no band of moderates. It was led by Nusra and included its closest Islamist and jihadist partners. The Army of Conquest was on the march, threatening the Assad family’s stronghold of Latakia on the coast. Had the insurgents progressed much further south, Bashar al-Assad’s regime would have been in serious jeopardy, perhaps would even have fallen. With the backing of Russia and Iran, Assad’s forces rallied and stopped the Nusra-led coalition from taking even more ground. Russia saved Assad, but its efforts also stymied the jihadists’ offensive—a important fact that is often left out of Syria policy debates.

Since July 2016, Jabhat al-Nusra has changed its name twice and merged with other organizations to form a group known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (“Assembly for the Liberation of Syria,” or HTS). The group is riven by internal rivalries, with some members even arguing that its leadership is no longer beholden to al Qaeda. But the jihadists are consolidating their control over Idlib as part of a totalitarian drive to dominate governance in the province.

HTS’s top-dog status within Idlib is no accident. Al Qaeda’s leadership and Jabhat al-Nusra have been laying the groundwork for an Islamic emirate, based on radical sharia law, in Syria since 2012. And their plan has called for exploiting Free Syrian Army groups and their CIA support.

Nusra has been happy to take advantage of the support FSA groups received from the United States and other nations supporting the multi-sided proxy war against Assad. There are dozens of videos online showing Syrian rebels firing the American-made, anti-tank BGM-71 TOW missile. The TOW is distinctive in appearance and relatively easy to identify, making it a rather public announcement of the groups involved in the CIA’s “clandestine” program. If one wants to know which FSA-branded groups have been approved by Langley, just look for TOW missiles.

Defenders of the program argue that only a small number of TOWs have been fired by al Qaeda’s men or other non-vetted rebels. Maybe. But at least some of the “vetted” groups shouldn’t have been deemed acceptable partners in the first place. Zenki received TOWs even though its extremism is obvious. Other Islamist groups within the loose-knit FSA coalition received TOWs as well.

And Nusra used such organizations to further its own designs. Abu Kumayt, who served as a fighter in the Western-backed Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), explained to the New York Times in December 2014 that Nusra “lets groups vetted by the United States keep the appearance of independence, so that they will continue to receive American supplies.” Another “commander” in a group that received TOWs told the Times that FSA “fighters were forced to operate them . . . on behalf of” Nusra during a battle with Assad’s forces. American-made weapons were fueling the jihadists’ gains and when Nusra finally grew tired of the SRF and Harakat Hazm, another American-supported group based in Idlib province, it quickly dispatched them, taking their weapons in the process.

American-made arms helped fuel the insurgents’ gains in Idlib province in 2015. Today, that same province is home to a nascent Taliban-style state.

Advocates for the Syrian opposition point to areas of the country outside of Idlib province where FSA-branded groups seem to hold more sway. But the story is almost always complicated by a jihadist presence. Take Aleppo, for instance, where in August 2016, insurgents temporarily broke the regime’s brutal siege. The Army of Conquest coalition—the same Nusra-led alliance that took over Idlib—played a key role in the fighting, as they would in a second attempt to break the siege later in 2016.

In October 2016, the U.N.’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told reporters that Nusra accounted for only 900 to 1,000 of the 8,000 opposition fighters in Aleppo. After objections that this modest figure was too high, the U.N. revised its estimate downward, claiming Nusra had just 150 to 200 members within the Aleppo opposition. Advocates then seized on this low figure to argue that the insurgents inside the city deserved the full backing of the West. They ignored the fact that the other, non-Nusra rebels included many extremists—such as Zenki.

It is doubtful that the U.N.’s lowball estimate for Nusra’s presence in Aleppo was accurate; Nusra produced videos showing large convoys making their way to the city, which suggested a much bigger force. But even the U.N. conceded that Nusra’s “influence” was greater than its numbers implied, because of the jihadists’ “operational capacity coupled with the fear that they engendered from other groups.” Part of the reason Nusra is so operationally effective is its use of suicide bombers, and a series of these “martyrs” were deployed by Nusra and its allies during key points in the battle for Aleppo. Without Nusra’s Army of Conquest, the insurgents would have had little hope of breaking Assad’s grip on the city, and TOW-armed FSA groups, some of them Islamist, fought right alongside Nusra’s men.

The bottom line: Sunni jihadists and extremists are laced throughout the Syrian rebellion and have been for years. While pockets of acceptable allies remain, there is no evidence that any truly moderate force is effectively fighting Assad, and President Trump was right to end the program of CIA support for the Syrian opposition.

It is a dire situation, and one might easily conclude that a full alliance with Russia in Syria makes some sense. That is clearly the president’s thinking. His administration has already explored ways to cooperate with Putin against the Islamic State, including brokering a ceasefire in southern Syria. But a partnership with Russia has its own downsides.

Russian and Syrian jets have indiscriminately and repeatedly bombed civilian targets. The Assad regime has used chemical weapons, which Trump himself objected to, bombing a Syrian airfield in response. The United States cannot endorse these war crimes by allying itself with the perpetrators of mass murder in Syria. The president has loudly denounced Iran and its sponsorship of terrorism throughout the world. But Russia and the Syrian government have sponsored Iran’s growing footprint in the country. A recent State Department report said that as many 7,000 fighters from Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terror group that is opposed to both the United States and Israel, are now located in Syria. These same Hezbollah fighters, along with Shiite militiamen sponsored by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), are Russia’s and Assad’s key on-the-ground allies.

All of which is to say that there are no easy answers in Syria. But that doesn’t mean the United States should keep playing a losing hand. And that’s exactly what the program to support Syria’s rebels was—a bad deal.

Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

Trump Shuts Down CIA Support for Syrian ‘Rebels’ After Years of Chronic Failure

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, July 24, 2017:

The announcement last week that the Trump administration was shutting down the “covert” CIA program of arming Syrian “rebel” groups couldn’t have come too soon.

As I’ve reported here in more than three dozen articles over the past three years, the CIA support program had suffered chronic failures, including defections of groups “vetted” by the CIA defecting to al-Qaeda and ISIS, and leakage of weapons provided by the CIA into the hands of those same terror groups.

The pinnacle of this failure came in Obama’s last few hours in the White House in January, when he ordered the bombing of a terror training camp that also hosted fighters from a CIA-“vetted” group embedded with Al-Qaeda. That same CIA-“vetted” group officially partnered with Al-Qaeda a few days later.

Perhaps the defining moment of the U.S. support for Syrian “rebels” debacle came last year when CIA-backed groups were fighting against groups backed by the Pentagon:

The Washington Post announced the cancellation of the CIA support program last week, claiming without evidence that the move was made to placate Russia:

The termination of the program was confirmed by SOCOM Gen. Tony Thomas at the Aspen Security Forum on Friday:

Gen. Thomas specifically refuted the Washington Post‘s Russia tie-in to the announcement:

But as I reported here at PJ Media back in February, the CIA had already begun shutting down the weapons pipeline to the “rebel” groups.

Predictably, the “rebel” groups began flocking to Al-Qaeda as soon as the CIA pipeline began to slow.

In response to the program cancellation announcement, cheerleaders of the “vetted moderate rebels” complained that the U.S. hadn’t supported the groups enough.

But that talking point was rebutted by Obama nearly three years ago.

In an August 2014 interview with Tom Friedman in the New York Times, Obama dismissed the notion that more weapons would have given the “rebels” any kind of edge and expressed frustration at the inability to find enough “moderates”:

With “respect to Syria,” said the president, the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy.This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”

Even now, the president said, the administration has difficulty finding, training and arming a sufficient cadre of secular Syrian rebels: “There’s not as much capacity as you would hope.”

And yet, just a month later the GOP congressional leadership passed $500 million in additional funds for an eventual U.S.-backed, Pentagon-trained army of 15,000 “vetted moderates” to combat ISIS. In less than a year, that half-billion dollar boondoggle approved by Congress turned into a disaster. By July 2015, fewer than 60 fighters had been successfully vetted and trained — costing taxpayers nearly $4 million for each fighter.

[…]

By any objective measure, the CIA’s assistance to the Syrian “rebel” groups has been a complete catastrophe.

The CIA’s botched handling in both Libya and Syria should serve as a cautionary tale to the Trump administration about the follies of ill-informed intervention. While those policies may have been driven by the best of intentions, the results have been horrifically bad.

And contrary to the program’s defenders, these efforts are very likely responsible for drawing Russia and Iran deeper into the region.

As the Assad regime, backed by Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, continues to make gains against the opposition’s positions, and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the north of the country pressure ISIS, we can only expect that the opposition will grow even more dominated by the terrorist groups because they have largely been the only game in town. And it’s likely that continued CIA support would have accelerated that radicalization process, not delayed it.

A few of us lonely voices have said this is where the Syrian war was heading all along. And the cancellation of the CIA’s support program is at least a tacit recognition that we were right.

Read more

U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army Allies With Terror Group That State Dept. Designated LAST WEEK

moderate-syrian-rebels-threaten-to-kill-us-special-forces-sized-770x415xtPJ Media, by Patrick Poole, Sept. 29, 2016:

U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups are coordinating with al-Qaeda fronts in defending Aleppo, and other FSA groups — armed with CIA-provided TOW anti-tank missiles — are working together with a terror group designated by the State Department just last week.

That’s from a report filed today by Reuters about the rapidly changing situation in Syria:

In Aleppo, rebels in the Free Syrian Army are sharing operational planning with Jaish al-Fatah, an alliance of Islamist groups that includes the former Syrian wing of al-Qaeda.Meanwhile, in nearby Hama province, FSA groups armed with U.S.-made anti-tank missiles are taking part in a major offensive with the al-Qaeda-inspired Jund al-Aqsa group.

The FSA rebels have deep ideological differences with the jihadists, and have even fought them at times, but say survival is the main consideration.

“At a time when we are dying, it is not logical to first check if a group is classified as terrorist or not before cooperating with it,” said a senior official in one of the Aleppo-based rebel factions. “The only option you have is to go in this direction.”

A top jihadist leader killed in an airstrike on a Jaish al-Fatah meeting earlier this month was Abu Omar Saraqeb, who played an active role in al-Qaeda in Iraq’s campaign against the U.S. in Iraq. Presumably, U.S.-backed FSA leaders were also present at the Jaish al-Fatah meeting.

The alliance between the FSA and Jund al-Aqsa in Hama is particularly noteworthy, since the State Department designated Jund al-Aqsa a terrorist organization just last week.

In its September 20 designation, the State Department identified Jund al-Aqsa as a direct threat to U.S. national security:

The Department of State has designated Jund al-Aqsa (JAA) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entity under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which imposes sanctions on foreign persons determined to have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.As a result of this designation, all property subject to U.S. jurisdiction in which JAA has any interest is blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with JAA.Jund al-Aqsa is a terrorist group in Northern Syria that primarily operates in Idlib and Hama provinces. Formed in 2012 as a subunit of al-Qa’ida’s affiliate in Syria, al-Nusrah Front (ANF) – a State Department designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group – JAA has since split and now carries out operations independently. However, despite the split it is still openly aligned with ANF. In March 2015, JAA launched two suicide bombings at checkpoints on the outskirts of Idlib. JAA also carried out the February 2014 massacre in the village of Maan in central Hama province, killing 40 civilians.

Two weeks ago I reported here at PJ Media about FSA units threatening to kill U.S. Special Forces operating in northern Syria, eventually chasing them out of the town of Al-Rai near Aleppo.

Interestingly, President Obama said — at least sixteen times — that there would be no U.S. boots on the ground in Syria.

What exactly is the point of supporting “vetted moderates” if they have no problem with working with al-Qaeda — or even, in some cases, the Islamic State — whenever they feel its in their interest to do so?

We provide these “vetted moderate” FSA groups with U.S. heavy weaponry when FSA units themselves are threatening to use those weapons against American troops.

Now there is a very real possibility of those weapons being shared with designated terror groups.

For more than two years I’ve been reporting here at PJ Media on the escalating catastrophe of the Obama administration’s Syria policy:

July 7, 2014: U.S. ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Brigades Surrender Weapons, Pledge Allegiance to Islamic StateSept. 3, 2014: U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army Operating Openly with ISIS, Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra

Sept. 9, 2014: Fighter With ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebels Tells L.A. Times They Fight Alongside Al-Qaeda

Sept. 10, 2014: ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Commander Admits Alliance with ISIS, Confirms PJ Media Reporting

Sept. 13, 2014: Yet Another U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group Makes Peace with ISIS

Sept. 24, 2014: U.S.-Backed Syrian Group Harakat al-Hazm Condemns U.S. Strikes on ISIS as ‘Attack on the Revolution’

Nov. 2, 2014: U.S.-Armed ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebel Groups Surrender, Defect to Al-Qaeda

Nov. 3, 2014: How Obama Walked Boehner and GOP Leadership Off the Syrian Rebel Cliff

Nov. 24, 2014: More Defections of ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Rebels to ISIS

Dec. 2, 2014: US-Backed Syrian Rebels Ally with al-Qaeda in South, Surrender CIA-Supplied Weapons in the North

Dec. 14, 2014: Report: Al-Qaeda Using CIA-Supplied TOW Anti-Tank Missiles in Northern Syria

Dec. 28, 2014: NY Times Admits: U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army Under Effective al-Qaeda Control

March 3, 2015: U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group Collapses, U.S.-Supplied Weapons End Up in Al-Qaeda Hands

March 24, 2015: Video Shows Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra Using U.S.-Provided TOW Anti-Tank Missiles in Syria

April 16, 2015: U.S. Analyst Admits ‘Moderate’ Syrian Rebels Have Been Working with Al-Qaeda All Along

May 8, 2015: CIA-Backed, “Vetted Moderate” Rebels Now Working Openly With Al-Qaeda

June 27, 2015: ISIS Using U.S. TOW Antitank Missiles In Latest Syrian Offensive

July 9, 2015: Report: ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Fighting Alongside Al-Qaeda, Islamic State Against Assad Regime

July 23, 2015: U.S.-Funded Free Syrian Army Unit Shows Off Its Kidnapping Skills in New Training Video

July 27, 2015: #BringBackOurRebels: Obama’s 50-Man ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebel Army Vanishes After Training in Turkey

July 29, 2015: #BringBackOurRebels Part 2: Al-Qaeda Arrests 18 U.S.-Trained Rebels On Their First Day in Syria

July 30, 2015: #BringBackOurRebels: Despite Pentagon Denial, Reports Confirm That U.S.-Trained Syrian Rebels Were Kidnapped By Al-Qaeda Almost Immediately

July 31, 2015: Report: Al-Qaeda Kills Five Members of Obama’s 54-Man Syrian Rebel Army

July 31, 2015: Chechen Terrorists In Syria Have Obtained U.S.-Provided TOW Anti-Tank Missiles

Sept. 22, 2015: Report: U.S.-Trained, ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebel Leader Defects to Al-Qaeda, Turns Weapons Over to Terror Group

Oct. 27, 2016: New Video Shows Al-Qaeda Using Weapons U.S. Gave to ‘Vetted Moderates’

Nov. 24, 2015: U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels Destroy Russian Helicopter with CIA-Provided TOW Anti-Tank Missile

July 20, 2016: CIA-Vetted, “Moderate” Syrian Rebels Behead Child Soldier

Sept. 3, 2016: British Journo: Syrian Kidnapper Who Shot Me Twice is Now a CIA-vetted ‘Moderate’

Sept. 6, 2016: New ISIS Commander Was Trained by State Department as Recently as 2014

Sept. 16, 2016: SHOCK VIDEO: U.S.-Backed, “Moderate” Free Syrian Army Threatens to Kill U.S. Special Forces

The ability to affect any positive change in Syria is compromised by the fact that we have no reliable partner in the country — notwithstanding the so-called “vetted moderates” — and a growing likelihood that American troops may be killed without any national strategic purpose.

***

An Al Qaeda terrorist tells a reporter, “The Americans are on our side.”

Obama Throws the Free Syrian Army Under the Bus

Smoke rises following an airstrike by US-led coalition aircraft in Kobani, Syria, during fighting between Syrian Kurds and the militants of Islamic State group, Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) LEFTERIS PITARAKIS — AP

Smoke rises following an airstrike by US-led coalition aircraft in Kobani, Syria, during fighting between Syrian Kurds and the militants of Islamic State group, Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
LEFTERIS PITARAKIS — AP

PJ Media, By Patrick Poole, October 16, 2014

For the past three years, the Obama administration has hailed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as the saviors of Syria — the “vetted moderate” force that was going to topple the butcher Assad. Because of that, the administration provided training, money and weapons to prop up the FSA (the word is they sent lawyers too).

But according to a report last night by Hannah Allam at McClatchy, Obama is now throwing the FSA under bus:

John Allen, the retired Marine general in charge of coordinating the U.S.-led coalition’s response to the Islamic State, confirmed Wednesday what Syrian rebel commanders have complained about for months – that the United States is ditching the old Free Syrian Army and building its own local ground force to use primarily in the fight against the Islamist extremists.

“At this point, there is not formal coordination with the FSA,” Allen told reporters at the State Department.

That was perhaps the bluntest answer yet to the question of how existing Syrian rebel forces might fit into the U.S. strategy to fight the Islamic State. Allen said the United States’ intent is to start from scratch in creating a home-grown, moderate counterweight to the Islamic State.

For most of the three years of the Syrian conflict, the U.S. ground game hinged on rebel militias that are loosely affiliated under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, or FSA. Their problems were no secret: a lack of cohesion, uneven fighting skills and frequent battlefield coordination with the al Qaida loyalists of the Nusra Front.

Last month I reported here at PJ Media about the coordination of the “vetted moderate” FSA with Jabhat al-Nusra and even ISIS. That coordination was later confirmed by a senior FSA commander.

Those reports came just as Congress was considering a vote to spend another $500 million to train their administration’s “vetted moderate” partners. That funding wasapproved by both the House and the Senate before Congress left town for the election break. With Obama cutting the FSA loose less than a month later, those who voted against the funding are going to look like geniuses.

Now that the FSA is safely under the bus it remains to be seen exactly who Obama is going to enlist to train and fight. Most of those who can fight are already in the fight. What are they going to do now, put out an ad on Craig’s List?

As one observer noted last night, Syria watchers should keep an eye out for the following ad showing up in the help wanted section of Middle East newspapers:

Wanted, Multicultural, non-sectarian, Jeffersonian democrats interested in military careers. English a plus. Drug test required.

Under Obama’s bus must be getting crowded…

U.S.-Backed Syrian Group Harakat al-Hazm Condemns U.S. Strikes on ISIS as ‘Attack on the Revolution’

PJ Media, by Patrick Poole, Sep. 24, 2014:

Just days after Congress approved $500 million in support for “vetted moderate” Syrian rebels, one of those same “vetted moderate” rebel groups currently receiving heavy weaponry from the U.S. has condemned the U.S. for airstrikes on ISIS in Syria earlier this week.

Harakat al-Hazm, which was one of the first Syrian rebel groups to receive heavy weapons from the U.S. this year, issued a statement Tuesday denouncing the U.S. for the anti-ISIS attacks. Harakat al-Hazm has been hailed by the Washington, D.C. foreign policy establishment as “rebels worth supporting” and “a model candidate for greater U.S. and allied support, including lethal military assistance.”

As reported by the L.A. Times:

One of the administration’s favored moderate rebel factions, Harakat Hazm, part of the Free Syrian Army alliance and a recipient of U.S. missiles and training, issued a statement Tuesday denouncing the “external intervention” — that is, the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Syria — as “an attack on the revolution.”

The group said its main goal was toppling Assad. It is demanding “unconditional arming” of the Free Syrian Army, yet its members also acknowledge fighting alongside Al Nusra Front, the official Al Qaeda force in Syria.

Still, the country’s motley bands of fighters labeled as moderates may well be the White House’s best hope for now. It has few other options.

Here is a copy of the statement by Harakat al-Hazm:

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Harakat al-Hazm may sound familiar to PJ Media readers.

Earlier this month I reported that Hazm fighters admitted to an L.A. Times reporter that they were fighting alongside Jabhat al-Nusra, the official al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. I also noted that despite media claims that Harakat al-Hazm had released 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 Obama administration billed the $500 million approved last week by Congress as aid to the rebel groups to help roll back gains by hardcore jihadist groups, including ISIS.

And now that one of the primary groups to which the U.S. is supplying heavy weapons in order to supposedly “roll back” ISIS gains has not only denounced the U.S. for this week’s airstrikes on ISIS, declaring them an “attack on the revolution,” but is also partnering with a U.S.-designated terrorist group, Jabhat al-Nusra, what hope is there really that the “vetted moderate” Syrian rebel groups are going to accomplish that goal?

And one final question: in light of this catastrophe, who is vetting the vetters?

Also see:

ALLEGED ISIS PHOTO CONTROVERSY ENGULFS SEN. JOHN MCCAIN

mccain-syria-rebelsBy Matthew Boyle:

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and his aides swear the Syrian “rebels” he was pictured last year with weren’t ISIS members or supporters, and the mainstream media is by and large buying the 2008 GOP presidential nominee’s story.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has endured brutal criticism—media fact checkers, reporters, and political figures have shredded him—for questioning just who McCain posed with.

But a closer look at the situation tells perhaps a different story than McCain’s office or the mainstream media have pushed.

The criticism of McCain centers around how the Arizona senator met with Syrian rebel leaders in May 2013 when he visited the country. McCain posed for photographs with those people, and since then rumors have sprouted up across the Internet that he met with ISIS or some other terrorist kidnappers or nefarious forces.

“The people in the pictures with Senator McCain in Syria included General Salim Idris, then-Chief of Staff of the Supreme Military Command of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Mouaz Moustafa, the Executive Director of the DC-based Syrian Emergency Task Force (which supports the moderate opposition and helped arrange some of the trip), and fighters and commanders from the Northern Storm Brigade, a FSA-aligned group,” McCain’s spokesman Brian Rogers told Breitbart News.

Rogers said that the senator and his team aren’t naming the “fighters and commanders from the Northern Storm Brigade, a FSA-aligned group,” because “ISIS actually threatened to kill them all, and we don’t want to put their lives at risk.” Rogers provided Breitbart News with a link to the ISIS threat to those fighters.

“ISIS targeted the Northern Storm because ISIS considers them apostates and because Northern Storm met with Sen. McCain,” Rogers said. “ISIS actually wrote out a statement that accused Northern Storm of treachery for reasons including: ‘Meeting with U.S. Senator John McCain in the hangar and making a contract with him against the Islamists.’ The statement goes on to demand that Northern Storm surrender and repent to ISIS or be killed.”

“ISIS actually killed many Northern Storm members, and we’re not going to put them at any further risk by naming them,” Rogers added.

But there’s just one problem with McCain’s office’s story. Now, McCain’s team says the senator didn’t meet with any bad figures but declines to name them, for what seems to be a legitimate reason—although those who are publicly leading combat against ISIS and against Bashar Al-Assad’s regime are probably publicly known figures there.

Just last year, however, McCain’s office had no clue who the senator met. When allegations surfaced that the senator may have met with terrorists who kidnapped someone, Rogers—McCain’s communications director—went on the record to multiple media outlets to say he didn’t know who he was meeting with, and if he did meet with kidnapper terrorists, that would be regrettable.

“None of the individuals the senator planned to meet with was named Mohamad Nour or Abu Ibrahim,” Rogers told CNN in late May 2013, right after the trip. “A number of other Syrian commanders joined the meeting, but none of them identified himself as Mohamad Nour or Abu Ibrahim.”

Rogers added later in his statement to CNN that he and the senator did not know who he was meeting with.

“A number of the Syrians who greeted Senator McCain upon his arrival in Syria asked to take pictures with him, and, as always, the senator complied,” Rogers said. “If the individual photographed with Senator McCain is in fact Mohamed Nour, that is regrettable. But it would be ludicrous to suggest that the Senator in any way condones the kidnapping of Lebanese Shia pilgrims or has any communication with those responsible. Senator McCain condemns such heinous actions in the strongest possible terms.”

Of course it’s ludicrous to suggest that McCain would condone the act of kidnapping, and nobody serious is suggesting that. The point many critics of McCain’s policies—including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)—are making is that Americans have no way of knowing which team any one of these figures is on.

“Here’s the problem,” Paul said in an interview with The Daily Beast this week. “He [McCain] did meet with ISIS, and had his picture taken, and didn’t know it was happening at the time. That really shows you the quandary of determining who are the moderates and who aren’t. If you don’t speak Arabic, and you don’t understand that some people will lie to you—I really think that we don’t have a good handle on who are the moderates and who aren’t, and I think the objective evidence is that the ones doing most of the fighting and most of the battles among the rebels in Syria are the radical Islamists.”

Paul has been roundly criticized for the remarks, starting with the publication he made them to. The Daily Beast’s Olivia Nuzzi wrote that Paul’s statement means he “repeated a thoroughly debunked rumor.” The Washington Post’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler gave Paul “Four Pinocchios,” its highest rating of dishonesty, for the statement. Kessler wrote that this story is one where he regrets “we are limited to just Four Pinocchios,” because there is “zero evidence that any of the men that McCain met with in Syria are linked to the Islamic State.”

Despite this pile-on by the media and political establishment, Paul has a serious point here, though. McCain really didn’t know who he was meeting with, and even if they were the supposedly “moderate” Free Syrian Army, who’s to know that they aren’t elements of the Free Syrian Army working alongside ISIS?

Patrick Poole, an esteemed national security reporter and expert on radical Islam for PJ Media, has reported that the Free Syrian Army’s commanders have admitted in public to working alongside ISIS. “As President Obama laid out his ‘strategy’ last night for dealing with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and as bipartisan leadership in Congress pushes to approve as much as $4 billion to arm 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,” Poole wrote on Sept. 10.

Poole cites the Lebanese newspaper Daily Star, which quotes a Free Syrian Army brigade commander as saying he is working with the “Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate — both U.S.-designated terrorist organizations.”

Read more at Breitbart

Also see:

House Amendment Would Allow Obama to Arm, Train Syrian Rebels with Terrorist Ties

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PJ Media, By Patrick Poole, Sep. 15, 2014:

According to reports, the House Armed Services Committee is currently preparing an amendment to arm and train the Syrian rebels that will be voted on this week. If passed, the bill will be attached to the continuing resolution to fund the government until December. **UPDATE** The amendment has been posted.

The most troubling element to the proposed amendment is a provision allowing the Obama administration to arm and train rebels with ties to terrorism. The “vetted moderate rebel” groups supported by the administration are known to be partnering with designated terrorist organizations, and the passage of this amendment would give congressional blessing to such arrangements.

According to The Hill:

The measure includes several provisions intended to satisfy Republicans and Democrats worried about giving the administration blanket authority to arm and train rebel groups, who would be used in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

It would require Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to submit the administration’s plan for training the moderate opposition 15 days before the commencement of any such activities, the aide said. That requirement was put forward by the administration, the aide added.

After that, Hagel would have to submit an update to lawmakers every 90 days.

That will be the extent of oversight by Congress — notification by the Pentagon.

But then there’s this:

The Pentagon would be required to list every individual they are recruiting, and would have to provide information on their backgrounds, including any possible links to terrorist organizations, according to the aide.

But the bill would not prohibit people with links to terrorist groups from actually participating in the program, the aide said. Such a blanket prohibition could make it tougher to recruit people for the training program.

Remarkably, this amendment is being billed by Republican leadership and the D.C. media as limiting Obama’s powers.

As I’ve been reporting here at PJ Media the past two weeks, considerable evidence is mounting that the “vetted moderate rebels” that the U.S. has already sent weapons to are allying with ISIS and other terrorist groups on the local level.

On September 3, I reported that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) — the main rebel group fighting the Assad regime — recently allied with ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria. A FSA commander later confirmed my reporting on their alliance near the Lebanon border.

Then on September 9, I reported on one of the first rebel groups to receive heavy weapons from the CIA earlier this year, Harakat al-Hazm, which has also allied with Jabhat al-Nusra.

And this past weekend I reported that the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), which had been billed as “the West’s best fighting chance against Syria’s Islamist armies,” has signed a peace deal with ISIS according to both Arabic and English media reports. The head of SRF yesterday published a denial — in English (meaning, for Western audiences) — of those reports. And yet, the Wall Street Journal reported in May about SRF’s open cooperation with Jabhat al-Nusra.

So with this House amendment, Republicans would be endorsing the Obama administration’s existing policy of arming and training Syrian rebel groups known to be working with terrorists, which would effectively give Obama political cover in the case of more U.S. weapons ending up in the hands of ISIS and other terrorist groups.

They don’t call the GOP “the stupid party” for nothing.