US finally acknowledging al-Qaeda factor in breakdown of Ceasefire

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

One of the frustrations of following the Syria conflict from the Arabic press is that when you then turn to the English language accounts, they tend to play down the importance of al-Qaeda or the Support Front (al-Jabha al-Nusra).

In American parlance, there have just been three sides– the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Free Syrian Army, and Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). The Free Syrian Army is depicted as democrats deserving US support (only some of them are).

There is a fourth force, however, al-Qaeda, which has been among the more successful fighting groups and which holds key real estate. They led a coalition of hard line Sunni Salafi groups into Idlib city last year. They have a position around Aleppo and inside it.

Even the 33 “vetted” guerrilla groups that are supported by the US CIA via Saudi intelligence often make ad hoc, battlefied alliances with al-Qaeda, and US munitions from other groups flow to the latter.

Al-Qaeda in Syria reports to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, a mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, so it is quite disturbing to see American allies coordinating with it.

Late last week Syrian regime planes hit civilian markets in West Aleppo with heavy civilian casualties, in what was likely a war crime. That kind of thing as must shoulder responsibility for the breakdown of the ceasefire. But it is also possible that these strikes were at least trying to hit the Nusra Front/ al-Qaeda.

On Friday, Kerry told the NYT that Russia might indeed be targeting Nusra in Aleppo,

He added that it has proven harder to separate” the militant group from the more moderate opposition groups “than we thought.”

Then US Army Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, said of the Russian air war,

“I’m not going to predict what their intentions are. What I do know is that we have seen, you know, regime forces with some Russian support as well begin to mass and concentrate combat power around Aleppo. … That said, it’s primarily al-Nusra who holds Aleppo, and of course, al-Nusra is not part of the cessation of hostilities. So it’s complicated.”

While it is too sweeping a statement to say that al-Qaeda holds Aleppo, it is true that al-Qaeda is one of the important groups that holds territory in West Aleppo and around the city, so it is a departure that Warren was being straight with us all.

Al-Qaeda has not signed on to the cessation of hostilities. Worse, it has convinced Free Syria Army factions such as Brigade 13 to join in its offensive against the regime, in which significant territory has been gained by the radicals.

So while it may be that the ceasefire is breaking down, it should be remembered that al-Qaeda played an important role in making it break down.

That continued aggressiveness appears to have impelled the Russians to try to cut the rebels in West Aleppo off for once and for all by cutting their supply line to Turkey.


Related video:

Russia Insider: “Russian journalists show presence of Al-Qaeda in Aleppo debunking US claims about “moderate rebels”

Posted in Featured,Syria | 12 Responses | Print |

12 Responses

  1. The fog of _really_ knowing _anything_ in almost any situation is so dense, what with people’s commissions of un-truths and regrettable actions, and their omissions of truths and righteous actions, and their overall unwillingness to come clean about any of this, that in a multi-factional actual military battlefield such as Syria has become in recent years, we can almost envision a situation in which no individual in society is trustworthy as a source of reliable information.

    And even if there were one such person, the situation could change tomorrow, invalidating the knowledge they could provide.

    • Even getting all the correct information doesn’t really help when it comes to Syria. It is such a morass, can anyone say definitively what the best US policy is? For me, it is to stay out and not get involved. The only side that seems halfway morally acceptable is basically a small splinter group that often has to ally with some odious group.

    • Prof. Cole is a historian by trade. Historians are trained at analyzing historic reporting and communications by taking into account the motivations of the writers and the intended effect on the audience. By comparing contradicting accounts historians are very good at establishing a picture that approaches historical truth.

      I believe it is that training, in conjunction with Prof. Cole’s considerable language skills, that make him one of the best sources of information on the matter.

  2. The Russians have clear, MODEST, and attainable goals for their adventures in the Syria. They want to retain their military bases on the Mediterranean. If Assad is part of that, great, if not then that is OK too. The US has none of their advantages. Our goals are vague by comparison.

    Clear? Who are our friends, who are our enemies? What is the difference between them today? What will be the difference tomorrow?

    Modest? We want to call the shots everywhere in the Middle East. Not just prop up Israel; we also want to maintain the world’s last monarchies.

    Attainable? The era of American domination over there is coming to a close. We exert ever more effort for ever fewer results.

    • Don’t confuse US policy under Bush with all US policy since WWII. The US did not become strongly pro-Israel until the 1967 War. Our support has waxed and waned depending on the president. In Egypt, for example, we opposed Nasser, supported Sadat, accepted/supported Mubarak, did not oppose his overthrow, gave lukewarm support to Morisi and now reluctantly accept the generals. In Iran we supported the Shah and initially tried to maintain relations with the Ayatollah until the students took over the embassy. Now we are basically accepting their dominance in the Persian Gulf. The US is a status quo power and we prefer democracies, but have learned to live with dictatorships. You need to look at the whole of history and view our involvement in broader, more general terms in context of the world system. We pretty much let Great Britain take the lead in the Middle East until the 1956 invasion and then took over the lead because of our fear of communist influence gaining a foothold. Before the fall of the USSR, anti-communism was the overriding concern of US policy and colored everything we did. And you also need to consider the internal political context. I feel certain that Obama would like to be more even handed vis a vis Israel–Palestine, but the Congress would overturn anything significant he would try in that regard. In short, I urge people to be wary of sweeping generalizations.

    • “we also want to maintain the world’s last monarchies.”

      Which, in addition to those in the Near East, include the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Japan, Lesotho, Malaysia, Swaziland, Thailand, and Tonga.

      • Stop talking rubbish. With the possible exception of Brunei, Lesotho and maybe Swaziland, those “monarchs” have very little power. There is no comparison between them and the House of Saud, which rules Arabia with an iron fist.

        • No one is “talking rubbish.” We are talking about precision in language use, something that apparently was lacking in the gentleman’s comment when he referred to the U.S. wanting to “maintain the world’s last monarchies.” If he was specifically referring to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, he should have so stated.

          Lack of precision in language use is responsible for many misunderstandings, not only in the U.S. but in the world. Thank you for making my point.

        • Although not expressing it in a very civil manner, Squeaky is exactly right.

          Can you say “constitutional monarchy”? There, now I’m not being very civil either.

  3. The Syrian opposition showed their true character when they went to Saudi Arabia to organize their Geneva delegation. Since when do moderate democracy lovers align themselves with brutal dictatorships like Saudi Arabia?

    The Saudi’s hate democracy with every fiber of their bodies. Democracy is by far the biggest treat to the extended kleptocracy that runs/loots Saudi Arabia. The Saudi’s do not want a Syria that serves as a good example of the good that democracy can do. The contrast to their current dictatorship would only cause trouble for them.

  4. I am reading Andrew Bacevich’s new book, America’s war for the Greater Middle East, a military history. I think it is the result of concentrating power in hierarchies, like the US military and politics that result in people losing their humanity and such confusion and destruction results.

  5. What about Assad’s bombing of Maaret Al-Numan, Aleppo city and Kafranbel, whose residents have been protesting Al-Qaeda and Assad simultaneously for almost 40 days and, according to Charles Lister, have driven out Jabhat fighters?

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