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A DEADLY DELUSION: WERE SYRIA’S REBELS EVER GOING TO DEFEAT THE JIHADISTS?

AUGUST 10, 2017

President Donald Trump’s decision last month to shutter America’s covert program to arm and train Syrian rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad was likely inevitable, and in any case overdue.

The program was premised on applying proxy military pressure to realize an unworkable political outcome – a negotiated resolution that removed Assad. And particularly in its late stages, it was feeding al-Qaeda-type jihadists who had infiltrated and co-opted large sections of the opposition.

The end of America’s “massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad” — in Trump’s own words — has sparked sharp debate over whether the move will benefit jihadists in al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

It will not. But the decision has also provoked a second, derivative argument over whether and how much Syria’s rebels were ever willing and able, historically, to stand up to the jihadists who hijacked Syria’s revolutionary insurgency.

This debate has policy implications — at least counterfactual ones — insofar as U.S.-backed rebels were apparently meant to out-compete and counterbalance jihadists. With a few exceptions, they proved unable to do so. (No exceptions so far)

As Syria’s war dragged on, America’s other policy priorities in the war were gradually subsumed by “counter-terrorism” — a shorthand term for the defeat of the jihadists of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Arguments for backing the array of nationalist and Islamist rebel factions collectively termed the “Free Syrian Army” were increasingly recast in those interests-based terms.

Into 2017, some were still retailing U.S.-backed rebels as “an already extremely vetted, truly indigenous, potential counter-terrorism force.” (Vetted by whom? Those Not on the ground for long terms?)

This did not comport with the historical record.

The fact of rebel cooperation with jihadists was consistently excused away as a tactical necessity, or as a function of insufficient U.S. support.

But there were only so many times U.S.-backed rebels could function as jihadists’ battlefield auxiliaries, sit and watch as jihadists liquidated other rebel factions, or prove generally unmotivated to fight jihadists before it became impossible to take them seriously as a counter-terrorism force.

(Actually, the extremist factions waited for the weapons to arrive to the “moderate” and launch an attack and take them away)

Rebels were more interested in going at the Assad regime – even if that meant fighting alongside jihadists, or under their command – than standing up to jihadists.

The factional dysfunction and personal entanglements of the rebels meant that jihadists were more central and powerful within the armed opposition than Washington and other rebel backers appreciated or acknowledged.

In the end, that not only meant that rebels were useless for counter-terrorism, but also that they couldn’t serve as a viable tool of pressure on the Assad regime or represent a realistic alternative to Assad’s rule. The whole logical edifice of U.S. support for Syria’s insurgency was wormy and rotten.

The counter-terrorism case for backing Syria’s rebels was bogus — an implausible claim by the Syrian opposition that was uncritically and irresponsibly repeated by opposition backers. Policymakers and analysts should have taken jihadist entanglement with Syria’s insurgency more seriously, much earlier. Instead, the policy debate was, for years, built on mythology and tall tales.

The Crux: January 2014 and Rebels’ Fight Against ISIL

The historical argument over the rebel fight against jihadists played out recently in an acrid Twitter back-and-forth between University of Oklahoma professor and longtime Syria expert Joshua Landis and the Middle East Institute’s Charles Lister.

The former argued rebels mostly refused to fight al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and more often fought alongside them. Lister called Landis’s arguments “misinformation” and “lies,” minimizing rebels’ ties with the Islamic State and other jihadists and pointing to their collective fight against the Islamic State in January 2014. (The jihadists had strong backing, financially, in weapons and in logistics through Turkey from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, with tacit support of the western States, particularly France and Britain and USA)

The case for the armed opposition as a counterterrorism force hinges, to a large extent, on this single episode in January 2014. Yet a more critical reading of that one event, especially in the context of rebels’ subsequent fight against the Islamic State, tends to reframe rebels’ utility as a U.S. partner against the Islamic State. Landis’s arguments are an oversimplification, in parts, and occasionally unfair. But the reality sides more with Landis than Lister.

In April 2013, ISIL’s Iraqi predecessor announced it would re-absorb its advance team in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusrah, and expand into Syria.

ISIL quickly got to work abducting opposition activistseliminating smaller, ill-reputed rebel factions, and seizing effective control of border crossings and other sources of revenue. Finally, after months of shocking, brutal provocations and escalating clashes with other rebels, open war erupted in January 2014 between rebels and ISIL in the west Aleppo countryside and then spread across the opposition-held north.

This has been spun, uncritically, into a legend of how rebels expelled ISIL from the northwest. Lister has been among those retailing a fairy-tale version of January 2014. In his 2016 paper, The Free Syrian Army: A decentralized insurgent brand, Lister acknowledges some of the complications in this episode, but nonetheless casts it in hagiographic terms:

The scale of [the opposition’s] success in forcing [ISIL] out of four provinces in 12 weeks is incomparably more significant than what the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have achieved in northeastern Syria in over two years of operations backed by U.S. air support. (Does he means Al Nusra of Al Qaeda faction?)

Yet the reality of January 2014 was substantially more complicated than Lister would have us believe. In retrospect, ISIL’s withdrawal from the northwest now seems less a rout at rebel hands than a decision by an overstretched, exposed ISIL to regroup in Syria’s desert east. From its new strongholds in the east, ISIL consolidated its forces and resurged in all directions, including into Iraq.

Though brigades in some sections of the north such as Jeish al-Mujahideen and Jamal Ma’rouf’s Syrian Revolutionaries Front launched pitched battles against ISIL in January 2014, elsewhere in the northwest, ISIL departed with a mix of local handshake deals and deliberate, tactical retreats.

Other powerful brigades — including Jabhat al-Nusrah and Ahrar al-Sham — absorbed or sheltered ISIL membersand facilitated their passage to safe areas in Syria’s east. The horrific death-by-torture of Ahrar commander Hussein “Abu Rayyan” al-Suleiman at ISIL’s hands had been one of the most proximate sparks for the January fighting, but much of Ahrar still couldn’t accept the idea of fighting fellow Islamist militants.

In Raqqa, Ahrar al-Sham fighters confused by ISIL’s religious slogans left local rebels to face ISIL reinforcements alone, only for those same Ahrar fighters to be executed in the dozens at an ISIL checkpoint north of the city. In the Aleppo countryside, gullible local rebel commanders agreed to parlay with ISIL representatives to halt the bloodshed.

An ISIL negotiator set off his suicide belt in time with a car bomb, killing the local commander and more than a dozen others. Local rebel resistance folded. ISIL captured and held east Aleppo until Turkey launched its Operation Euphrates Shield intervention more than two years later.

In eastern Deir al-Zour province, Jabhat al-Nusrah and other rebels fought a fierce, losing battle from February to July 2014 as the Islamic State closed in around them. Then ISIL overran Mosul and, swollen with new weapons and materiel it had taken from the Iraqi military, turned west towards Deir al-Zour. Faced with an overwhelming ISIL force, the Deiri opposition split and collapsed. Critically — and characteristically — rebels in Syria’s west left Deir al-Zour alone to lose against ISIL.

After summer 2014, and with the exception of some stubborn Deiris who tried to claw their way back, most of Syria’s rebels gave up on the east.

To be fair, rebels in  west Syria’s were trying to fend off the Assad regime and, from 2015, hold out against an overwhelming Russian intervention. But the longer the Islamic State occupied Syria’s east, the clearer it became that western rebels were not sufficiently motivated to liberate what had been revolutionary, opposition-held areas from the Islamic State’s brutality and terror, and the less immediate and compelling the example of January 2014 became.

The whole reason the United States opportunistically struck up a tactical partnership with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — including, as Lister noted in his paper, providing U.S. air support — was because the SDF’s core Kurdish elements were motivated and able to kill the Islamic State in eastern Syria.

This set them apart in a way that Lister and other rebel boosters have yet to fully acknowledge. Helpfully, the SDF also was not infiltrated by jihadists, which meant it was possible safely deploy combat advisors and forward air controllers alongside them.

Attempts by the U.S. Department of Defense to build a similar partner force out of Syria’s Arab rebels mostly failed. The most capable rebels were already participating in the CIA’s covert arms program and committed to fighting the Assad regime rather than the Islamic State. Many of the remaining rebels available and willing to partner with the United States were refugees who had fled the battlefield.

Deir al-Zour rebels could not be recruited in more than paltry numbers or unified under a single commander. In Syria’s north, the first batch of U.S.-trained rebels to enter the country in 2015 was almost immediately torn apart by Jabhat al-Nusrah. Notably, no other rebel factions intervened to protect them – it was Kurdish-led forces that came to their defense and then sheltered them.

The second batch surrendered its U.S.-supplied weapons to Jabhat al-Nusrah. The Department of Defense counter-Islamic State program was amended to integrate small, Pentagon-trained units capable of calling in U.S. airstrikes into a larger mass of CIA-armed rebels, but even with substantial U.S. air support, rebels proved unable to do more than ping-pong back and forth across the Aleppo countryside until Turkey invaded.

Turkey’s own role inside Aleppo progressively scaled up over the course of Operation Euphrates Shield, until it had committed thousands of regular forces and taken the lead in the battle for the city of al-Bab.

Even then, American and Western officials told me, the Turkish-led capture of al-Bab went poorly enough to push U.S. planners towards alternatives in the battle for al-Raqqa. By the time rebels who had already lost in Syria’s west were appealing for a role in the battles against the Islamic State in Raqqa and Deir al-Zour in 2017, it was too late.

The Long Black Thread, Before and After the Islamic State

The politically convenient timeline for the Islamic State’s incubation inside the Syrian opposition is short. It starts with the Islamic State’s announced entry in April 2013 and ends with its rupture with Syria’s rebels in January 2014, roughly nine months. But this too is a false narrative.

The reality is that the Syrian opposition’s entanglement with the Islamic State and jihadists broadly didn’t start in April 2013, and it didn’t end in January 2014. It’s not a single, bracketed episode. Rather, it is a black thread that’s run through the opposition almost from the start until the present day.

The Islamic State did not just appear from nothing in April 2013. Though it announced itself in 2013, its advance force — Jabhat al-Nusrah — and other future constituent parts were inside Syria and playing an active, leading role in the insurgency from the start of 2012.

And even after the break with the Islamic State, its jihadist derivatives continued to poison the opposition. Again and again, the opposition — and the armed opposition in particular — proved unable to recognize the jihadist threat in their own ranks until it was too late.

From Jabhat al-Nusrah’s first acknowledged operation in Syria — a January 2012 car bomb in Damascus’s al-Meidan neighborhood — and the group’s video debut later that month, it should have been clear that it was either a manifestation of al-Qaeda or something al-Qaeda-like. But as Nusrah pivoted from terrorist bombings to a vanguard role on the battlefield alongside other rebels, it was accepted, only months after its terrorist opening act, as an integral part of the opposition. Important segments of the opposition went from denying al-Qaeda was even in Syria and claiming Nusrah’s early bombings were false flag attacks to closing ranks around an obvious al-Qaeda derivative.

In July of that year, the opposition stormed Aleppo, in their boldest, most ambitious blow against the regime to date. In the aftermath, Jabhat al-Nusrah was one of the four leading Islamist factions that came together in December 2012 to establish the Aleppo Shari’ah Commission, a joint judicial-administrative body to govern the city’s rebel-held east.

When the United States designated Jabhat al-Nusrah a terrorist organization and identified it, correctly, as an alias for al-Qaeda in Iraq, leading voices in Syria’s opposition loudly refused to acknowledge reality. The then-head of the opposition’s political leadership-in-exile said the decision “had to be reconsidered.” The following Friday, opposition activists organized protests across the country under the slogan, “There Is No Terrorism in Syria Except Assad’s.”

It was only the announcement of the Islamic State in April 2013 that obliged Jabhat al-Nusrah — and everyone else — to acknowledge exactly what it was, forcing Nusrah to defensively pledge direct, public allegiance to al-Qaeda (Even then, armed opposition members argued to me, as late as 2016 and 2017, that Jabhat al-Nusrah wasn’t really al-Qaeda).

Between the April 2013 announcement of the Islamic State and the break with ISIL in January 2014, Syria’s rebels coexisted with ISIL and — though it’s true ISIL was never integrated into the mass rebellion the way Jabhat al-Nusrah was — operated alongside them on at least several fronts.

The most prominent instance of rebel-ISIL cooperation was the 2013 capture of Aleppo’s Minagh Airbase, in which an ISIL suicide bomber cleared the way for a joint rebel assault. But rebels also seem to have fought alongside or in parallel with ISIL elsewhere, including in Lattakia, in the northern Damascus countryside, and against Kurdish forces across the Syrian north.

When ISIL began picking off individual half-criminal rebel factions in 2013 — in Aleppo citythe Aleppo countrysideor in Raqqa — other rebels mostly left them to die.

After ISIL was finally run out of Syria’s northwest in 2014 and concentrated in Syria’s east, the northwest became the rebellion’s center of gravity. It also became Jabhat al-Nusrah’s main power base, as the group rallied in the northwest starting in summer 2014.

And when Jabhat al-Nusrah started to eliminate nationalist rivals, not unlike ISIL had, northern rebels again sat on their hands. Northern rebels suffered from the same weaknesses and contradictions that plagued rebels nationwide. They had limited, local horizons. They were divided by faction, geography, and individual personalities. And they had problematic ideological sympathies and interpersonal ties with jihadists.

Altogether, they were incapable of mounting a collective resistance to a predatory Jabhat al-Nusrah. It is unclear how more U.S. support would have fixed that, particularly when the United States started targeting al-Qaeda external operations cells and Nusrah began targeting factions it deemed “Western tools.”

Jabhat al-Nusrah wiped out Jamal Ma’rouf’s ill-reputed Syrian Revolutionaries Front in October 2014, plus an assortment of Ma’rouf-linked factions. Other local factions, including Ahrar al-Sham, either joined in or were quietly complicit.

When CIA-backed Harakat Hazm tried to intervene to slow Nusrah’s campaign on Ma’arouf, Nusrah eliminated Hazm’s Idlib section. After escalating tensions between Nusrah and what was left of Hazm in Aleppo, Hazm defensively joined a larger Islamist faction. But Hazm kept causing problems, so its Islamist patron and other local factions decided Hazm had run its course. In February 2015, they stood aside while Nusrah snuffed it out.

Jabhat al-Nusrah was abetted in liquidating these factions by an ultra-extreme, Islamic State-leaning splinter called Jund al-Aqsa. Nusrah sheltered Jund al-Aqsa as it assassinated other rebels and — as what rebels called “[ISIL’s] Embassy in the North” — ferried would-be foreign fighters from Turkey to the Islamic State’s home base in al-Raqqa.

When Ahrar al-Sham attempted to uproot Jund in late 2016, it suffered heavy losses and accepted a face-saving settlement brokered by Jabhat al-Nusrah. In February 2017, Jabhat al-Nusrah (by then renamed Hayat Tahrir al-Sham) finally moved on what was left of Jund al-Aqsa — but, even then, Nusrah “defeated” Jund by giving its fighters safe passage to Islamic State-held Raqqa.

In March 2016, Nusrah broke a locally popular Free Syrian Army faction. In January 2017, it broke several factions that agreed to attend the Astana talks co-sponsored by Turkey, forcing the remaining fragments to join Ahrar al-Sham.

And in July 2017, Nusrah broke Ahrar al-Sham, its sole remaining rival for power in Syria’s northwest. Ahrar had historically been a key ally and enabler of Jabhat al-Nusrah, and it had played a central role in bringing the same extremist foreign fighters into Syria who would later repeatedly betray it.

The dust has yet to fully settle, but it seems as if enough of Ahrar’s local subfactions stuck to their home areas — cutting deals to declare their towns neutral, or only running Nusrah out of their own sectors — that Nusrah was able to overwhelm Ahrar at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. Bab al-Hawa had been Ahrar’s stronghold and its main source of revenue and power. No longer.

The next-biggest rebel factions said they’d send a buffer force to interrupt the fighting around Bab al-Hawa, then didn’t, then blamed each other. One has already endorsed Jabhat al-Nusrah’s planned “civil administration” in the Syrian north.

CIA-backed Free Syrian Army factions played no part in the fighting between Nusrah and Ahrar al-Sham, except as a tame buffer force. The CIA had encouraged them to unite to form a counterweight to Jabhat al-Nusrah months earlier. They refused, recognizing, correctly, that Nusrah would view their unification as a menace and destroy them. Instead, they formed a nonthreatening “operations room” meant solely to fight the regime.

From 2012 to 2017, all these rebels continued to coordinate with and fight alongside Jabhat al-Nusrah. And the intra-rebel power dynamic had been inverted in ways outsiders seem to have misapprehended. By some point — certainly from 2015, but probably earlier — most northern rebels were not operating alongside either Jabhat al-Nusrah or Ahrar al-Sham as autonomous peers, but rather as jihadists’ fire support and force-multiplying auxiliaries. Nusrah was also siphoning off these factions’ U.S. material support, either by taking a regular cut or crushing these factions and pillaging their weapon stocks.

Lister has claimed that “[Free Syrian Army] groups who fought [al-Qaeda] were abandoned to lose.” But there’s only so much the United States could do when fragmented, basically local rebels abandoned each other, over and over again.

Flawed, Nationwide

Syria’s northwest — which, as rebels lost more of Aleppo, became increasingly centered on Islamist- and jihadist-dominated Idlib province — has been the most extreme example nationwide of how jihadists have run roughshod over Syria’s opposition. But rebels nationwide suffered from the same flaws, only to lesser degrees. It’s those flaws that, even when they didn’t leave other rebels vulnerable to outright jihadist control, meant they also couldn’t really expunge pernicious extremist actors and tendencies.

The closest thing to an anti-jihadist success story has been the rebel southwest, where Jordan’s tight management of its northern border with Syria and of its local rebel clients seem to have kept Jabhat al-Nusrah from blossoming the way it did in Syria’s north.

“Southern Front” rebels officially renounced cooperation with Jabhat al-Nusrah in 2015, and the group has apparently been kept mostly isolated and small. It also seems to have suffered because of one particularly bloodthirsty, unlikeable Jordanian emir, now since moved elsewhere in the country.

But even in the south, Jabhat al-Nusrah has survived, protected by its members’ local clan ties and their tactical utility to other rebels as shock troops, and it has continued to play a key role on hot fronts. There have been reports that local rebels have told Nusrah to either dissolve itself or leave the south, against the backdrop of the United States and Russia imposing a “de-escalation zone” over the area, but it remains to be seen how convincing rebels are and how willing Nusrah is to be convinced.

Under the de-escalation agreement, southern rebels will likely have to fight the local Islamic State force that stubbornly holds the area’s valley corner and against which they have been unable to mobilize effectively.

The “Euphrates Shield” northern Aleppo countryside is mostly free of Jabhat al-Nusrah because of Nusrah’s 2015 withdrawal from the area, the presence of Turkish forces on the ground, and a geographic accident — this rebel enclave is disconnected from the Nusrah-dominated rebel northwest, and really from anything other than Turkey’s Gaziantep province. Still, there is some reason for concern.

In June, dozens were reportedly killed in intra-rebel clashes that erupted — according to one party to the infighting — after one rogue rebel sub-faction starting chanting Nusrah slogans and then opened fire on residents who objected. And rebels have struggled to deal with continuing Islamic State infiltration. Local rebels told me in interviews that Islamic State cells in this area continue to commit acts of sabotage and carry out bombings.

In the besieged East Ghouta pocket outside Damascus, dominant local Islamist faction Jeish al-Islam eliminated the Islamic State in 2014 and, in 2016, turned its fire on Jabhat al-Nusrah. But that seemed to have as much to do with local factional balancing and economic interests as with anti-jihadist religious doctrine. And the rest of the Ghouta’s factions just balanced back, as Jabhat al-Nusrah opportunistically partnered with a local Free Syrian Army faction against Jeish al-Islam.

In terms of extremist influence and relative moderates’ inability to effectively organize against jihadists, Idlib and the rebel-held northwest have been the worst. But these are not Idlib problems; they are problems with Syria’s revolutionary opposition writ large.

Policy Implosion

This accounting of when Syria’s rebels did and did not resist jihadists is by no means a complete or comprehensive one. If someone wanted to get maximally granular — to dig down to the individual or village level — it’s probably possible to produce unlimited examples of rebels’ tangled-up relationships with jihadists.

The Assad regime itself had a hand in engineering jihadist influence within the opposition. From releasing dangerous jihadist detainees early in the uprising, apparently deliberately, to dumping rebels from elsewhere in the country into jihadist-dominated Idlib, Assad seems to have done everything he could to make his opposition toxic and unpalatable.

But Syria’s rebels themselves never really proved capable of policing themselves and purging their ranks of extremists. And by the time Trump had decided to end the CIA’s covert arms program, the geographic and numerical core of the armed opposition in Syria’s northwest was unsalvageable. It was dominated by factions like Ahrar al-Sham that were problematic, ideologically confused, and incapable of being productive counter-terrorism partners, and by Jabhat al-Nusrah, which is itself a counter-terrorism problem.

That meant rebels were never a really useful implement of U.S. or allied policy. So long as the most powerful factions espoused either Islamist, sectarian-majoritarian chauvinism, or straight black-flag jihadism, rebels could not represent an alternative political vision for a diverse Syria or be used effectively to press for a negotiated end to the conflict. The opposition also could not be a reliable counterterrorism partner, and support for opposition rebels was in fact boosting jihadists militarily and materially.

The conventional wisdom that the Syrian opposition was indispensable for counter-terrorism was a product of sentimentality and addled thinking. In particular, many opposition backers fell into a sort of over-reading of sectarian identity politics. They allowed themselves to be convinced that Syria’s jihadists had to be defeated by a force that looked basically like those jihadists, drawn exclusively from a demographic community defined in jihadists’ own sectarian terms.

One report called for America to stand up “the moderate Sunni Arab resistance needed to defeat the ISIS and al-Qaeda insurgencies,” a “partner by, with, and through which to conduct a population-centric counterinsurgency.” Another set of analysts and activists argued Washington needed to support Syrian opposition “indigenous counter-terrorism forces” in the most simplistic sectarian terms: “This counter-terrorism force needs to be led by moderate Sunni Arab fighters as Syria is a majority Sunni Arab country.”

This uncomplicated sectarian logic meant recommitting to a Syrian opposition force that had demonstrated consistently that it could not challenge jihadists and that, in any case, did not have a monopoly on Sunni Arab representation in Syria. Counting on the Syrian fighting force that, besides the Islamic State itself, was most riddled with jihadists to combat jihadists did not make sense.

And when rebels repeatedly made clear that their priority was fighting the Assad regime instead of jihadists, opposition backers rewrote their own interests and objectives to suit their clients’ needs. They tied themselves up in contortive logical knots to explain how, if they wanted to defeat jihadists, first they had to give the opposition everything it wanted.

These counter-terrorism-appropriate rationales for supporting the opposition should not have been taken seriously. The idea that Free Syrian Army rebels could somehow outcompete jihadists on the battlefield, or that they had to backfill and provide fire support for jihadists just to maintain their own independent relevance, was not real.

The idea that opposition rebels, if delivered to victory or to a negotiated solution on their preferred, victorious terms, would then team with the Syrian military to eliminate their jihadist cousins and comrades-in-arms was similarly unreal. And finally, the idea that if the opposition won, jihadists would just demobilize and rejoin anything like a normal, safe society was also not real.

Take this section of Lister’s policy opus for War on the Rocks, in which he argued for a compulsory ceasefire and political transition imposed at the end of America’s superpower arsenal:

Assuming that the credible introduction of an enforcement mechanism did guarantee a more durable period of calm in Syria, the influence of extremist groups would almost certainly decline after a period of months. As that trend developed, the likelihood for tensions to develop between Syria’s mainstream opposition and extremists alongside them would rise, thereby presenting opportunities to encourage their isolation.

Over an undeterminable period of time, this process could eventually “re-sort” insurgents, whereby all those willing to abide by a continued ceasefire and engage in an eventual political process would become more and more distinguishable from those who would not. It would only be after such a process played out that external military strikes could be considered against those unsalvageable extremists more clearly delineated on the ground.

“An undeterminable period of time” is a Syrian opposition-dictated fantasy, not policy.

There were non-counter-terrorism-related reasons to like and support the Syrian opposition. But as counter-terrorism gradually crowded out America and the West’s other priorities in Syria, the interests of the opposition terminally diverged from those of their Western backers, including the United States.

I don’t blame the opposition for these sorts of rationalizations, although we shouldn’t infantilize them or deny them agency, either. They certainly bear their share of responsibility. Still, as events turned against them, these arguments were all they had left.

I am angry at outsiders who affirmed and repeated these sorts of excuses, and particularly government officials and decision-makers. These people should have known better, and they should have communicated the political realities and consequences of the opposition’s extremist links clearly to their Syrian clients. They did the Syrian opposition, and Syrians broadly, a terrible disservice.

The opposition was not, with time, learning usefully, and its backers were not obliging it to learn. When rebels took Aleppo’s eastern half in summer 2012, lazily disguised Syrian al-Qaeda and other unacceptably hard factions assumed control of its governance. When rebels took Idlib in spring 2015, openly avowed Syrian al-Qaeda and other unacceptably hard factions assumed control of its governance, again.

When rebels broke the siege of Aleppo in summer 2016, it was the same radioactive, jihadist-led coalition that blazed the path. The same patterns kept playing out, only more intense and worse, and still enabled by opposition sponsors.

In retrospect, optimism among rebel backers about the Jeish al-Fateh (Army of Conquest) coalition’s 2015 offensive in Syria’s northwest — channeled by The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, for example — seems to be where the opposition’s backers really worked themselves into peak delusion.

It is mind-boggling that anyone was bullish about the political leverage to be gained from a provincial capital’s fall to a force jointly led by Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda, which then blazed a path south into the regime’s sectarian heartlandmassacring Alawite villagersand featuring their children in hostage videos.

The “al-Fateh” in Jeish al-Fateh literally means “open.” Historically, it connotes a Muslim army’s “opening” of new, non-Muslim lands to Islam. A Sunni-supremacist, foreign fighter-laden “Jeish al-Fateh” — reinforced by U.S.-supported Free Syrian Army factions — rampaging through the minority farming villages of Hama’s Ghab Valley should have been deeply alarming. It certainly seems to have alarmed Russia, which directly and decisively intervened in Syria on behalf of the regime months later.

Opposition backers probably should have figured this out. Instead, they repeated their opposition clients’ rationalizations and superstitions, which conveniently flattered those backers’ own policy preferences and analytical misapprehensions.

The opposition’s state backers and friendly analysts did not take the problem of jihadist infiltration of the opposition seriously. And in part because they coddled the opposition instead of forcing a real, corrective reckoning, things got out of hand.

Ultimately, it fell on Trump to kill U.S. support for Syria’s opposition rebels and to state the obvious: “It turns out it’s — a lot of al-Qaida we’re giving these weapons to,” he told The Wall Street Journal last month.

Opposition backers’ magical thinking helped lead their clients into a dead end. But those foreign opposition boosters can at least disengage and walk away, even if they’ll feel some angst about it. It’s mainly the opposition itself — the admirable parts of it, and some good people who made mistakes — who are going to pay.

Sam Heller is a fellow at The Century Foundation and a Beirut-based writer and analyst focused on Syria. Follow Sam on Twitter: @AbuJamajem.

Note1 : Since January 2017, 700,000 Syrians returned to their hometowns, mostly to Aleppo. Hezbollah kicked out Al Nusra from Lebanon eastern mountain chains and over 8,000 Syrians returned to Syria. The fighters were dispatched to Edleb, Al Nusra fiefdom in north west Syria by Turkey, the main supporter of this faction, along with Qatar.

Note 2: ISIS will be done with within a few months, But Al Nusra (backed by Turkey) will be there in north west Syria by the border.

Note 3: The US is still delaying the defeat of ISIS in Syria and obstructing the Syrian army to liberate all the eastern desert. to reach the Iraq borders.

Syrians oppressed by dictators, jihadists, and bombed by the West: Who is the terrorists?

At first we didn’t recognise our friend. He had lost more than 10kg and had trouble standing up. His face was the colour of a ripe lemon, his clothes as filthy as if he had just climbed out of a tomb. Could that really be Mohammad?

Syrians have been oppressed by a dictator and jihadists, and bombed by the west – and you call us terrorists?

A week ago the 30-year-old pharmacist had been abducted in an Aleppo suburb by Islamic State. Most of his friends had assumed that Mohammad (not his real name) was gone for ever.

“No one goes into ISIS prisons and comes out alive, especially those who are accused of being secularists,” his friend Rand said. Mohammad is a devout Muslim, but for Isis a secularist is simply anyone who dares stand up to them.

Barrel bomb aleppo province

The aftermath of a barrage of barrel bombs dropped by forces loyal to Syria’s President Assad in Atareb, ia town in Aleppo province. Photograph: Abdalghne Karoof/Reuters

The irony is that while Mohammad is a dangerous secularist in the eyes of Isis, the west sees him as a dangerous Islamist.

After Isis occupied some Aleppo suburbs (Eastern part), Mohammad and many other medics decided not to leave their home town but to continue helping local people – despite the risk and personal sacrifice involved. Yet they now find themselves treated as terrorists wherever they go, simply because they have come from Isis-occupied territories.

Last month Mohammad and a group of doctors were not allowed into Turkey, although their passports are valid. A border guard told them to “go back to your Islamic State”.

In a way Mohammad is lucky. Not only did he manage to run away from an Isis prison, he also doesn’t have to travel abroad, where the entire world would treat him as a terrorist until proved innocent. “You are all terrorists to the Americans,” the manager of a bank in the Turkish city of Gaziantep told me yesterday, explaining the new ban of US dollar transfers to Syrian-held accounts

At least she bothered to explain. Last summer I received a call from the American consulate in Istanbul telling me that my two-year visa was cancelled. Apparently they were not authorised to give me the reasons why.

I travelled to the US twice last year with an organisation that is registered there, and I have an international press card, a valid visa to the UK and a track record of working for the BBC: all that didn’t save me from the suspicion of being a potential terrorist.

A friend who works in the US told me that I probably wouldn’t have faced these problems living in Turkey. “But you live inside Syria, so you are most probably a criminal in one way or another.”

When my flight landed at London’s Heathrow airport last December, police came on to the plane and called for a woman with an Arabic-sounding name. I panicked and started deleting unveiled pictures of myself on my phone. It took a few seconds to remember that I wasn’t at an Isis checkpoint in Syria.

So I closed the photo gallery and went on to delete some of the patriotic anthems on the device, in case their Islamic messages could be taken as proof of me being a terrorist. Then another reality check: the name called out wasn’t mine. Later, in the terminal, I cried my eyes out.

Well, maybe they are right, maybe I am a terrorist?

A terrorist who decided to leave her work as a broadcast journalist in a highly respected media outlet to go back home and help people under attack from Assad’s barrel bombs. I am a terrorist who is attached to life yet chose to face death on a daily basis, in the name of freedom and human rights.

I have 7  friends in Isis prisons, kidnapped long before the rest of the world took notice of this terrorist group. I lost others who were fighting Isis in January 2014, trying to kick the militants out of Edlib and Aleppo provinces.

Abo Younis, the sweetheart doctor of Bustan al-Qasr medical centre, was executed with 40 others in Aleppo’s eye hospital after it was taken as a base by Isis in 2013. In addition, there are all the great friends who have died under torture in Assad’s prisons, or while resisting his tyranny.

And now, with our city divided by warring factions, the skies above our heads are filled with terror too. An 11-year-old relative of mine was recently killed by a coalition air strike in Ein Shib, a suburb of the city of Edlib.

Ahmad had lost his father last year, so he and his sister were living with their grandfather, who is a high-level member of the al-Nusra Front. Since the coalition strikes started, 35 fighters from Aleppo and two big battalions from Edlib have joined Isis.

Amid all the geopolitical wranglings and fear of returning jihadists wreaking terror in Europe, it is the stories of ordinary Syrians that are being forgotten: people who were terrorised first by a dictator who wanted all those who didn’t support him dead, then by foreign jihadists coming from all over the world to occupy our country, and now by the “collateral damage” of coalition air strikes. And you call us terrorists?

 

 

 

Two Suicide bombers, one on motorcycle and another in a truck, kill 25 and injured 150 near Iran embassy in Beirut this November 19, 2013

BEIRUT/Bir Hasan: Two suicide bombers – one driving a rigged car and the other on a motorcycle with an explosives belt – attacked the Iranian Embassy in Beirut Tuesday, killing at least 25 people and wounding more than 150, security sources said.

The attack, confirmed by Lebanon’s military prosecutor as the work of suicide bombers, was claimed by an Al-Qaeda-linked group (The Abdullah Azzam brigades) and is the latest in a spate of deadly bombings linked to the war in Syria.

“The Abdullah Azzam brigades – the Hussein bin Ali cells – … are behind the attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut,” Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the group’s religious guide, said on his Twitter feed. (Zuraiqat was detained in Beirut in 2012 and let loose)

(This brigade was very active in Egypt and particularly in Sinai where they targeted western tourists in Cherm al Sheikh during the Mubarak regime.  They launched rockets at the city of Nahariya last year in order to draw military reactions of Israel on Hezbollah, and targeted the Presidential Palace in Lebanon 4 months ago. The late Abdullah Azzam was killed in 1989…)

Zuraiqat confirmed “It is a twin suicide operation by two heroes from the Sunni community in Lebanon,” and warned that the group – a Lebanon-based Al-Qaeda affiliate – would carry out further attacks until Hezbollah withdraws its fighters from Syria and Islamist detainees in Lebanon are released.

A high-level security source said CCTV footage showed the first suicide bomber detonating his explosives belt at the embassy’s entrance just before 10 a.m. after approaching the compound on a motorcycle.

Minutes later, a second explosion shook the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Bir Hasan when a second bomber detonated an explosives-laden Sports Utility Vehicle less than 50 meters from the embassy compound, the source added.

(The motorcycle was to destroy the Embassy door and let the vehicle be exploded within the compound. A water truck was ahead of the vehicle and the driver fled after the first conflagration and the truck the way to the next suicide bomber. The vehicle exploded in front of the building hosting the Iranian families of the embassy personnel)

In a statement, the Army said military experts determined the first explosion was the result of a suicide bomber on a motorcycle. The second suicide bomber was driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle, it added.

The security sources said among the 25 victims were Sheikh Ibrahim Ansari, the embassy’s cultural attaché who was leaving to be presented to the minister of culture, an Iranian civilian and a Lebanese who was employed at the embassy.

Five Iranians, including embassy guards and a nurse were also wounded in the bombings, according to the sources who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity.

Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi, speaking hours after the explosions, said his embassy was the target of a “terrorist attack” and blamed Israel, Iran’s long-time foe.

Head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, MP Mohammad Raad, also said Tuesday’s bombings suggested Israel may have been involved.

“The attack is similar to the racially vindictive approach of the Zionist enemy [Israel],” he said.

The area around the embassy was littered with debris as firefighters fought to contain the flames from burning vehicles parked on the road adjacent to the embassy compound.

At least 6 bodies lay on the street leading to the compound as thick plumes of black smoke filled the sky over the neighborhood.

“I was waiting at the traffic sign on the street parallel to the Iranian embassy when I heard a loud explosion,” said a motorist, who refused to be identified.

“I was terrified. I saw black smoke, but I decided to continue my trip to Shweifat [southeast of Beirut],” she added.

Lebanon, polarized over the war in Syria, has seen a string of deadly car bombings in recent months, all widely linked to crisis in its war-torn neighbor.

On two separate occasions, car bombs have targeted the southern suburbs of Beirut, a stronghold of Iranian-backed Hezbollah which in May acknowledged it was fighting in Syria alongside forces loyal to President Bashar Assad against rebel groups.

Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has accused jihadists of being behind the bombings in the southern suburbs and vowed to  continue the military campaign in Syria as long as necessary.

(The embassy had no cement blocks around its perimeter as many embassies have, and is facing an open area and wide streets, otherwise the destruction and injuries would have been tripled by this 100 kg of bombs.)

(The military intelligence services have warned more than a year ago that Al Qaeda has bases in Lebanon, but the current minister of the interior and the chief of the internal security forces denied the accuracy of the military intelligence pieces…)

(In the afternoon, we watched the soccer game between Lebanon and Iran. The Iranian team won legs down (3 to 0)

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2013/Nov-19/238284-blast-heard-near-iranian-embassy-in-beirut-witness.ashx#ixzz2l6fOft7J
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)

Has Erdogan of Turkey lost it? Ill-health, internal troubles, increased external alienation…

Erdogan is ruling Turkey since 2002, backed by his Moslem Brotherhood “Justice and development” Party.  Any ruler in power for 10 years is bound to become a de facto dictator, no longer in touch with the needs of his people, the little people who want earthly kinds of happiness: Food, health, security, equality in entitled rights and responsiblities…

All the “democratic” gimmicks of fair elections cannot obscure the smokescreen tactics: Erdogan has been trying to convince the world community that Turkey is on the proper path to peaceful democratic transition of power…

Erdogan has lost it:

1. He is in terrible ill-health. He refrained from appearing in public for over 6 months and the very few new pictures of him are devoid of good health…

2. Instead of focusing his attention at resolving the Kurdish problem, integrating the kurds are equal citizens with fair treatment…Erdogan is boasting of having killed 500 Kurdish insurgents this month alone…and vowing to eradicate thousands of them by military operations…

3. The Kurds counter-reactions are as violent…cars have been exploding in large cities in Turkey and in the Capital Istanbul…and the military operations are increasing and the insurgents are learning to cope and return to the offensive…

Mind you that the internal instabilities in Turkey are much prior to the Syrian uprising. Most probably, Erdogan figured out that turning against the Syrian regime might unite the Turkish “Nation” against a fictional enemy…and relieve him from his internal pressures and delaying their resolutions…

Syria has turned down the proposal of Erdogan to help him militarily to crush the Kurdish unrest on the borders…

4. Turkey has antagonized many surrounding States, such as Iran, Iraq, and the States around the Black Sea. The previous strategy of making peace with all the surrounding States has gone to pieces. Why? The Turkish regime is turning authoritarian and nationalist chauvinist, and adopting the Attaturk slogan “Turkey is for the Turks”

5. Erdogan foreign minister convinced him to “get engaged in Syria and reflect later…”. Wrong and deadly judgment: Syria and Turkey have thousands of years of emmeshed history and common communities…(See note). The Western nations refrained from taking seriously Turkey’s direct and vast strategic plans on the Syrian problems…

6. So far, there are over 80,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, and preparations are suggesting that Turkey is expecting the number to increase to 130,000 very shortly. The political immersion in Syria’s affairs has dwindled the support for the Turkish Moslem Brotherhood Party: The Turkish citizens are very apprehensive of the massive infiltration of foreign militias and radical Islamists entering Turkey, supposedly to fight in Syria, but most of them trying to find refuge in Turkey.

The Arab States are refusing to let the former jihadists return home, and prefer to dispatch them to Hot Spots, regions specifically created to keep the jihadists on the move and away from their home States…

7. Erdogan and the President Abdullah Gul are in the process of a long internal infighting: Erdogan dismissed and retired many high officers in the army who were counted on the President and taking political engagements not to the satisfaction of Gul…

8. There is this trend of transforming Turkey into another Pakistan, very unstable, fragile, and radical, and the reactions of Erdogan are encouraging this political instability…The consequences of the long difficulties and instability in Afghanistan has affected the political/social structure in Pakistan. 

The Syrian instability is affecting the Turkish political/social structure and radicalizing the ‘minorities” in Turkey, especially the Kurds and the Alawits, both them forming at least 45% of the total population.

The Alawit Moslem sect, forming 15% of Syria population and about 20% in Turkey, is a mixture of Shia and Sufi interpretation of Islam. This sect were persecuted for a thousand years by the dominant Sunni Caliphat and they took refuge in high mountain chains. The Ottoman military formation the Inkishariyat was suppressed by the Sultan in 1826 and the disbanded soldiers assembled in secret sects, associating with the Alawit secret organizations and spreading in the Balkan region…

Note 1: Post partially inspired from an article by Jihad Zein in the daily Al Nahar.

Note 2: The “Turks” are nomadic tribes from current Turkmenistan and neighboring central Asia States who united and defeated the Byzantium army around 1080 and established the Seljuk dynasty.

What direct advantages “Arab Spring” infused in the region?

This article will focus on the first and biggest advantage that the “Arab Spring” infused in the Arab/Islamic States: It is the serious pitting of the three other Sunni sect (Chafi3i (Egypt), Maliki (North Africa), and Hanafi (Syria)) against the radical, salafist, and obscurantist Wahabi sect called Hambali (7ambali) in Saudi Arabia.

Before the Arab uprising, Saudi Arabia had undertaking a vast campaign since 1980 of exporting its obscurantist brand of religious sect (Wahhabi Hanbali) to all the Arabic and Islamic States, infusing billion of dollars, constructing mosques, and hiring its brand of clerics to preach on Friday prayers.

The States of oligarchies and dictatorship cared about the money coming in and the support of the USA…

After the revolutions, the people in all the States with relatively moderate Islamic sects, not compatible with the Saudi Arabia brand, woke up from this serious infiltration and are vehemently confronting Saudi Arabia meddling in their religion and with determination.

The various Moslem Brotherhoods in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria are counter-attacking Saudi Arabia absolute monarchy that is buying off the spirit and soul of their Islamic belief system.

For example,

1.  Abd Fattah Moro, the leader of Tunisia “Al Nahda” Moslem Brotherhood in power said: “In Tunisia we have the Maliki religion, unifying our country, and it is a destabilizing factor for the foreign Hanbali sect to try to proselytize here…”

2. In Egypt, Sheikh Al Azjar said: “We have to keep a large distance with this “desert sect” imported from Saudi Arabia by the radical salafist movement of Al Nour…”

3. In Syria, the insurgents in Aleppo said: “We have scores of jihadists coming from everywhere to support our revolution. We were impressed of their initial large aura of valiant fighters from Al Qaeda. At the first bombing of the jet fighters and salves of tanks from the army, they instantly fled to Turkey, leaving us to fend for our life. Good riddance. They were of no value to us in Syria…”

And what the Wahabi sect is based on?

1. Moslems are prohibited to undertake any pilgrimage, except to Mekka, and to a lesser extent Medina. Pilgrimages to Holy figures and tombs (awliya2, makamat…) are apostasy and counter to true Islam faith… Consequently, all Islamic salafist movements who came to power (Libya, north Mali in Tombouctou, Nigeria, Yemen, Afghanistan…) have undertaken to destroy the tombs of the Holy figures in Islam.  In Iraq, Tunisia and Egypt, both Shia and Sunni Holy tombs have been desecrated and bombed to the ground by the Wahhabi Moslems, even though the local inhabitants had protected these Holy places for centuries…

2. No pictures of Holy figures are to be hanged in homes or public places…

3. The focus is on detailing the bodily punishments inflicted on the non-orthodox Moslems, and particularly the women

4. Daily activities are detailed and programmed, as in all strict religious ideologies…

If the Arab Spring generated a wave of vigorous counter-attack on Saudi Arabia hegemony, that is sufficient advantage for years to come…

Mind you that it was Saudi Arabia that initiated, ignited, funded the Al Qaeda jihadist movement in the 1980’s, supposedly to counter the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan.

Since then, Saudi Arabia had been pitting the Sunnis against the Shia in the Moslem world, tacitly propagating the urgency for demolishing all pilgrimage sites of tombs and mazarat.

Bandar bi Sultan, the everlasting Saudi ambassador to the US, is currently the chief director of funding and dispatching Al Qaeda members to the various “Hot Spots” in the Arabic and Islamic States. Obviously, all these managing and planning activities are ordered by the CIA

Note 1: There are documents from 1807: The Emir of Najd, Saud bin Abd el Aziz, dispatched letters to the Emirs in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco demanding that they switch from their Maliki sect to the Wahhabi hambali sect.  The replies were: “Thank for the offer. But No…”

A few years later, the Ottoman sultan ordered his viceroy in Egypt, Muhammad Ali, to send a military expedition to quell the uprising in Najd.  Ibrahim pasha (elder son of Ali) managed to enter the stronghold of the Saud fief in Saudi Arabia, destroyed and burned the large city and dispersed the followers of  preacher Abdel Wahhab. The British Empire was the main supplier of weapons and funds to this radical Wahhabi sect, and the British had to fall back to the port of Adan in Yemen.

The British came back and restored the power of the Al Saud in all of Saudi Arabia, including Mekka…

Note 2: In the 1920’s, scores of US politicians and oil explorers invaded Saudi Arabia and were awed by the similarity of the Wahhabi sect and their Protestant belief systems.  Kind if the Wahhabi agreed for Jesus to be at a par as a prophet with Mohammad, thing will be a total match…This was a minor disagreement: as long as the US got the exclusive exploration for oil in Saudi Arabia, the US was willing to sell its soul to the devil…


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

July 2020
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