US, UK suspend Aid to Syrian “Moderates” as Fundamentalists Grab Western Supplies

(By Juan Cole)

The United States and the United Kingdom have suspended aid to the Syrian National Council and its Free Syrian Army, headed by Gen. Salim Idriss, after FSA warehouses of arms were raided by the Islamic Front. It also captured a key border crossing with Turkey. The Islamic Front, a coalition of fundamentalist groups, has emerged as much more important than the fading Free Syrian Army. While the Islamic Front excludes the two major al-Qaeda affiliates in northern Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Jabhat al-Nusra (The Succor Front), the fact that it was able to grab materiel intended for the coalition the US and UK dub “moderates” has raised alarms that further aid shipments at this time could fall into the hands of extremists.

Wasi al-Zaman, a Qatar-based Syrian site, wrote, according to BBC Monitoring, on Dec. 10:

“The Islamic Front takes over management of Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey… A source in the Islamic Front told Zaman al-Wasl that the front asserted full control of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing yesterday [9 December]. The source pointed out that the Islamic Front elements are in charge of managing the border crossing in terms of the entry and departure of passengers and goods. In a statement to Zaman al-Wasl, the source pledged to improve the security situation and services at the border crossing over the next period of time…”

The collapse of the Syrian National Council is awkward for the negotiations scheduled for Jan. 22 with the ruling Baath regime, since the SNC was supposed to represent the rebel side. Most of the guerrillas have by now withdrawn from it.

The intrepid Michael Jansen of the Irish Times reports that the Islamic Front is funded and organized by Saudi Arabia. Its moderate bona fides were brought into question on Thursday when its fighters joined the Jabhat al-Nusra in killing 15 civilians from the Shiite Alawite and Druze minorities in Adra near Damascus.

Euronews reports

The Congressional policy of arming the rebels, which has yet to be implemented, may be rethought as the specter looms that this “aid” will likely go in the main to the Islamic Front, and probably to the al-Qaeda affiliates. The US went down that road in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and got 9/11 as blowback.

17 Responses

  1. A few of us have been saying since the Syrian civil war began that the United States should stay out of it and not intervene on behalf of any side in the conflict. The US has no interests in Syria that are worth getting involved. Bashar al-Assad is a brutal authoritarian and so was his father Havez al-Assad. Nevertheless, for 40 years we pursued our interests in the Near East while managing to come to terms with the Assad family.

    Regardless of John McCain’s “vetting” of the moderate rebels in the Syrian National Council and its Free Syrian Army, I wrote a couple of months ago that the Islamists were far better organized, and are better commanders and fighters. The Islamic Front has been gaining ground since then, with the takeover of the warehouse and Western supplies for the FSA only the latest gain. Weapons and supplies are fungible. Nothing guarantees they will remain in moderate hands. To suggest that we should put more arms in the hands of the moderates would be to invite more instances of them ending up in the hands of the Islamic Front.

    The Syrian civil war is not a simple black-and-white battle between the Assad regime and the rebels. It is every bit as much a multidimensional conflict among the rebels as well. We should have learned a lesson with the outcome in Libya, in Tunisia, and in Egypt under Morsi, that the so-called Arab Spring was a brief triumph of wishful thinking over reality. It is time for some adult thinking about what constitutes US interests in the region. They certainly do not include a strong Islamist influence in Syria. When one hears the “Red Line” voiced that “Assad must go,” one should contemplate what would likely take his place.

    • CIA officers Miles Copeland and Stephen Meade had instigated the overthrow of popularly-elected Sunni Presient Shukri al-Quatli in the spring of 1949 with the connivance of Syrian army chief of staff Husni al-Zaim.

      The overriding policy objective at that time was the Trans-Arabian Pipeline – which the democratically-elected Syrian government had blocked. The pipeline project was approved immediately after the coup. A series of military-controlled governments dominated Syrian politics until 1970 when Defense Minister Hafez Assad overthrew and jailed Prime Minister Atassi.

      President Obama eventually issued an executive order authorizing broad support for the rebels forces from the U.S. intelligence community. The apparent policy consideration was the human rights violations being perpetrated by the Assad regime against his own people, however that regime has been a destabilizing force within Lebanon via its arming of and providing logistical support to Hezbollah, whom the U.S. State Department has identified as a terror organization.

      America’s #1 ally Israel, also, would love to see the Free Syrian Army prevail over Assad.

      • Syria had been relatively unstable prior to 1949, and the post-’49 military-controlled governments were equally unstable themselves. Hafez al-Assad and the Baathists took over in 1970, and for all his authoritarian thuggery, at least provided a modicum of stability that had heretofore not been in evidence.

        Syria has provided a conduit for arms and other materiel to Hezbollah in Lebanon, but it has not been the primary provider. That would be Iran, which is one reason why Iran supports Assad.

        No doubt Israel would like to see the Free Syrian Army prevail in Syria, just as John McCain and other dreamers would. They should all beware of what they wish for, as the Islamic Front is the more likely winner should Assad fall.

  2. Probably the only people surprised at the Islamic Front’s aggression are our warmongers trying to do to Syria what they did to Iraq.

  3. I hope things work out for the best in Syria, but…the U.S. is in an economic crisis and we need to take of of our domestic economic problems first. We’ve bled our country dry trying to influence global politics. It’s time we cut off economic and military involvement everywhere.

    • ” We’ve bled our country dry trying to influence global politics. ”

      More likely the country is being bled dry making the world safe for global corporations to make ever greater profits. The greatest waste of the national fisc can be found in the Pentagon and security budgets.

  4. Too bad calculations of “US interests” by the people who get to say what they are, without the inconvenience of asking “the US” or any fear of consequences for “miscalculations,” don’t include long-view enumerations of what’s good for the planet and the people who remain on it. The “realists” who are so good at mouthing the “US national interests” phrase seem mostly interested in preserving old-fashioned if now technically much advanced “freedom of action” for various military and economic factions (much the same thing, any more), regarding control of or just relationship to certain kinds of consumable resources and wealth transfers. The human-pain horror you can see in Syria and so many other places apparently just has a value near “zero” in the complicated formulae. But then the horrors of today are the reconstruction bonanzas of tomorrow, right? Or the seeds of new horrors to come, all of which can be short-term profit centers if one puts one’s mind to it…

    • “The human-pain horror you can see in Syria and so many other places apparently just has a value near “zero” in the complicated formulae.”

      So what are you driving at in your above-cited statement. Mr. McPhee? Are you suggesting the United States should intervene wherever there is “human pain and horror”? Are you for US intervention as long as it meets your criterion of “humanitarian intervention”?

      • Hi, Bill! No, you don’t get to put words in my mouth.

        You never make it clear what your involvement with “the US” that you always pitch for was, or is, but the people who have arrogated to themselves the power to deploy and project the munitions and “policy” of that reification you call “the US,” to supposedly serve some chimaerical “national interest,” have demonstrated an uncanny ability to destabilize, demolish, destroy, confiscate, divert, dissemble, and generally screw things up and create horror for what our rulers and troopers tend to call “wogs” and “gooks” and “Hajjis,” all over the place. Nothing new for Players in the Great Game since at least Hammurabi and Sun Tzu, of course, so no particular opprobrium for “our” Empire there, except maybe as to ambition and scale.

        And as pointed out by actual Serious Historians, “our” “humanitarian interventions,” link to thenation.com, like “nation-building” (which the Pentagram acknowledges is code for “regime change,” with all that means) tend to be at the best only minutely “humanitarian” and only peripherally about “building.”

        What “we,” or those of you who wield that imperial power, are useless and actively antithetical to are lines of thought and action that lead to silly stuff like dealing with or more wisely trying to amend the behaviors that lead to stuff like “climate change” and the endless round of profitable militarization and crushing “globalization,” that shorthand for the triumph of short-term profit maximization and consequence-free Large Living for a tiny few with NO “NATIONAL” LOYALTIES AT ALL.

        The “reality” all the Serious Players and Apologists yak about is a mashup of PR spin, selfish little career and bonus-baby interests, and millennia of “ruling elites” preying on everyone else. The Solons and Socrates’s get knifed or garrotted or hemlocked before any marking out of pathways and incentives to decency and comity have a chance to mature.

        The best thing “WE” could do is keep “OUR” amoral clumsy greedy noses out of other peoples’ lives and business, and to instead serve as “WE” sort of did for a few decades as an actual beacon of hope for the aspirations of peoples wanting economic fairness or at least a bigger share, and participation, however attenuated by republic-ism, in their ruling.

        You got any challenge to the notion that that “horror” stuff is valued at something close to ZERO, in the geoplotical (sic intended) calculus? You care to make a case for any “successful” “humanitarian intervention” by the overt forces and sneaky-petes marching, steaming, flying or acting under color of the ol’ Red, White and Blue? Or for the long-term, species-survival wisdom of all those centuries, now, of “policy?” Or is it not honestly all about grabbing, or getting the lower orders to create or grab for “US,” what “WE” can? Grab now, with some nod to maybe keeping the Syndicate in operation long enough for the present Mob to get theirs, and who cares about future generations that can neither vote, hahahahaha, nor object? All in the “national interest,” which you wisely never deign to define, of course…

      • Short version of the longer response I posted too:
        Hi, Bill! You know that is not what I said or was talking about. You are misdirecting, at best. You don’t get to put words in my mouth, or hijack the train of thought, unchallenged.

        Just curious, though: You got any rebuttal to the notion that that “horror” stuff produced by profitable weaponizing and sneaky-pete exacerbation of social divides, so voluminously cataloged in Death Selfies on youtube and such places these days, is valued at something close to ZERO, in the geoplotical (sic intended) calculus? Or any examples of “successful US or UN humanitarian interventions?”

        • “You got….any examples of “successful US or UN humanitarian interventions?”

          I am the wrong person to ask that question. If you have followed my posts, you will know that I rarely, if ever, support direct United States military intervention for “humanitarian” reasons that have nothing to do with core US national interests, be it in Rwanda in 1994, Bosnia in 1995, Serbia (over Kosovo) in 1999, or Syria during the current civil war. It is best to either let regional actors intervene or let the conflicts play out until one side or the other prevails. Anything short of that just sets up the game for the next round of conflict.

  5. Several points:

    Yesterday, General Salim Idris of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army met on the Syrian/Turkish border with Islamic Front commanders to discuss the situation. The Islamic Front has currently been helping the Free Syrian Army ward off ISIS extremist elements. The U.S. is monitoring the situation and the FSA has expressed hope through its spokesman that the U.S, would reconsider its decision and continue funding of the FSA.

    The Islamic Front in October of this year announced its formation and at that time its brigades had already renounced any allegiance to the Syrian National Coalition. The Islamic Front did not renounce the Free Syrian Army at that time, nor have they been affiliated with the extremist al-Nusra Front or Islamic State in Iraq and Syria groups.

    The Free Syrian Army and its Supreme Military Council owe their allegiance to the Syrian National Coalition, who is recognized by the world community diplomatically as the representatives of the Syrian people and who occupy Syria’s seat in the Arab League.

    While the Islamic Front seizure of contents of the FSA-controlled warehouse is significant and troubling, other U.S.-supplied storage facilities of the FSA have been undisturbed.

    Lastly, the Syrian National Council, headed by George Sabra, an Orthodox Christian, and based in Istanbul, is a separate entity tha the Syrian National Coalition – who is based in Doha, Qatar and and led by Ahmad al-Jarba, a Sunni Muslim attorney. The Syrian National Council, however, has a number of members who hold seats in the Syrian National Coalition. The Syrian National Coalition was founded in Qatar in November of 2012.

    There has always been degrees of dissension in the anti-Assad rebel movement. One example were Kurdish groups who felt that the Syrian National Council was too close to the Turkish government whom the Kurdish leaders saw as inimical to their interests.

    The respective websites of the two Syrian key expatriate groups:

    http://www.syriancouncil.org link to eitlaf.org

  6. the Islamic Front is funded and organized by Saudi Arabia. Its moderate bona fides were brought into question on Thursday when its fighters joined the Jabhat al-Nusra in killing 15 civilians from the Shiite Alawite and Druze minorities

    A religious political militant group backed by the Saudi Arabian fundamentalist regime being ‘moderate’? Maybe that was just relative to the religious extremist credentials of the Al Qaeda groups. Or probably confused by the recent backing of non-religious fascists in Egypt.

    Regardless, the revolution and FSA have been wrecked thanks to them…

    • The Islamic Front was formed by over one dozen brigades whose organizing principle was political separation from the Syrian National Coalition. al-Nusra Front and ISIS are not included in their ranks, however not all military units may be “moderate.”

      • The first paragraph was meant to be in quotes. Its taken from the above article, rephrased from Irish Times’ Michael Jansen. I think its acknowledged in that article that they’re an umbrella group. Regardless of their makeup, one stream of funding and backing is from Saudi Arabia. Its possible they have other streams that include both govt and private funding from Kuwait, Qatar, Europe, etc.

        I don’t think political and logistics is the only dimension that played in their decision from splitting from SNC, and it would seem like Saudi Arabian meddling of weakening the SNC opposition’s standing.

        No one claimed that the other Al Qaeda aligned groups make up their ranks. But it is being alleged that they ran a joint operation with those hardline groups and possibly cleansing of minority Syrian citizens as stated above in the article. Regardless of ‘convenience’, it would imply a religo-sectarian political dimension and extremism rather than moderation or Saudi Arabia’s questionable ‘control’ over such groups. Its kind of splitting hairs trying to distinguish some of Islamic Front’s supposed ‘moderate’ groups who continued aligned with the extreme groups under the same umbrella, especially with the latest incident.

  7. A video to a chilling interview by the BBC with a French jihadist, who claimed ‘they were all Al Qaeda’ as far as goals were concerned (though differed in their levels of brutalities or extremism).

    He left because his Islamist rebel group allied with ISIS, which he found too hardcore even for him.

    link to bbc.co.uk

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