Let me clarify at the outset: this post doesn’t directly concern the 2012 DIA intelligence report, the one that clashes with the official narrative on the rise of ISIS, the makeup of the opposition in Syria, and its relationship to its foreign backers. (More on that later.) It’s about the increasingly cozy relationship between the United States, its regional allies, and al-Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
It’s amazing what you can learn from establishment reporting on Syria. But you usually have to read past the first few paragraphs because journalists tend to bury the good stuff — the stuff that challenges conventional opinion — and often obscure it further with convoluted or disjointed writing, presumably so as not to discomfit government officials. Sometimes you have to read something twice to make sure it’s saying what, in fact, it’s saying.
Consider these two paragraphs that appear in a piece called “Why Assad is Losing.” It should be called: US Urging Its Proxies to Work with Al Qaeda.”
The involvement of FSA groups, in fact, reveals how the factions’ backers have changed their tune regarding coordination with Islamists. Several commanders involved in leading recent Idlib operations confirmed to this author that the U.S.-led operations room in southern Turkey, which coordinates the provision of lethal and non-lethal support to vetted opposition groups, was instrumental in facilitating their involvement in the operation from early April onwards. That operations room — along with another in Jordan, which covers Syria’s south — also appears to have dramatically increased its level of assistance and provision of intelligence to vetted groups in recent weeks.
Whereas these multinational operations rooms have previously demanded that recipients of military assistance cease direct coordination with groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, recent dynamics in Idlib appear to have demonstrated something different. Not only were weapons shipments increased to the so-called “vetted groups,” but the operations room specifically encouraged a closer cooperation with Islamists commanding frontline operations.
Got that? The US used to say to its proxies in Syria, “We’ll give you arms as long as you don’t work with Al Qaeda.” It’s now saying, “Here are some arms and please work with Al Qaeda.” Big News? Well yes, it should be, but if a tree falls in the forest and it’s not in the lede…
Example number two. These three paragraphs appear (and not in succession) in a story on the same topic covered by the previous story: the new coordinated effort of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to arm its proxies in Syria and deal a decisive blow to the Syrian government.
The leader says he explained that they and every other opposition group in the north, with the exception of Islamic State (Isis), were about to be beneficiaries of a detente between regional powers who had agreed to put their own rivalries aside and focus on a common enemy – the Syrian regime…
In early March, senior regional figures had been summoned to Riyadh by the newly crowned King Salman to hear his plans for the region. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was one of the first to arrive. Qatari officials and Gulf Co-operation Council leaders soon followed.
His message was threefold: first, there was to be no more division along regional lines, which had seen the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned governments of Turkey and Qatar pour support into allied Syrian groups, while Saudi focused on more mainstream outfits. Second, Riyadh would agree to send gamechanging weaponry to northern Syria in return for guarantees of coordination and discipline. And, finally, the US would not stand in the way. “Quite frankly,” a Saudi official told the Observer, “it would not have bothered us if they had tried to.”
There you have it. The Obama administration is green-lighting a plan to send huge amounts of arms to a coalition that includes Al Qaeda (and other jihadist groups.) Pretty good story, eh? But like the related news in the previous story, it gets lost in an often-giddy discussion of Assad’s alleged diminishing prospects in the face of new cooperation between his foreign adversaries.
Those who dismiss as a conspiracy theory the notion that the US was complicit in the rise of IS should consider its AQ-friendly policy today.