In 2014, Vice President Joe Biden made headlines when he admitted in a speech at Harvard University that Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and United Arab Emirates were supplying the money and weapons to Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups in Syria that led to the rise of ISIS.
“The Turks, the Saudis, the Emirates, etc, what were they doing?” Biden said at the time. “They were so determined to take down (Syrian President Bashar al) Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tonnes of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad.”
Biden also relayed a private conversation he had with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, wherein Erdogan admitted jihadists had entered Syria through Turkey and joined ISIS.
The admissions caused a firestorm and Vice President Biden subsequently apologized — though it now appears that, if anything, Biden should have apologized for not going far enough and admitting the US’ own role in fostering the rise of ISIS by strengthening extremist groups like Al Qaeda.
Or so says a new article in Harpers titled “A Special Relationship: The United States is teaming up with Al Qaeda, again.” In the article, Andrew Cockburn, details how extensive the US involvement was with pre-Al Qaeda groups in the 1980s, and analyzes the new bonds formed between the US and Al Qaeda for the shared goal of overthrowing Syrian President Bashir al-Assad.
Cockburn explains the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and others established networks in partnership with the US and Pakistan to “vent” their domestic Islamic extremists into the fight in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. The venting had the virtue of both hurting the Soviets and ridding the countries of possible threats to their regimes. While the US claimed the recruiting networks and operations for the war in Afghanistan were being run solely by the Pakistani intelligence service known as the ISI, the reality was the CIA was just as deeply involved in both recruitment and operational support.
Amazingly, the article notes that one of the CIA-backed recruitment centers for jihadists going to Afghanistan was based in Brooklyn, New York, at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center on Atlantic Avenue. The center was visited by Abdullah Azzam, a cleric and one of the founders of what would become Al Qaeda, who toured the US looking to help the cause of jihad. So much for plausible deniability.
The model and networks used to take on the Soviets in Afghanistan were reportedly restarted and sculpted to take on the Assad government, at one time marching under the banner of Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest), a coalition that included Al Qaeda’s Syria branch (Jabhat al-Nusra):
This potent alliance of jihadi militias had been formed under the auspices of the rebellion’s major backers: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar. But it also enjoyed the endorsement of two other major players. At the beginning of the year, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had ordered his followers to cooperate with other groups. In March, according to several sources, a U.S.-Turkish-Saudi “coordination room” in southern Turkey had also ordered the rebel groups it was supplying to cooperate with Jaish al-Fatah. The groups, in other words, would be embedded within the Al Qaeda coalition.
A few months before the Idlib offensive, a member of one CIA-backed group had explained the true nature of its relationship to the Al Qaeda franchise. Nusra, he told the New York Times, allowed militias vetted by the United States to appear independent, so that they would continue to receive American supplies. When I asked a former White House official involved in Syria policy if this was not a de facto alliance, he put it this way: “I would not say that Al Qaeda is our ally, but a turnover of weapons is probably unavoidable. I’m fatalistic about that. It’s going to happen.”
The CIA appeared to be more than fatalistic, facilitating arms shipments for the coalition that included Al Qaeda; the weapons traveled from Jordan into Syria and were paid for by the Saudis. The CIA’s own weapons shipments would also end up in Al Qaeda’s hands via the collapse of the so-called Free Syrian Army.
So, the US has provided financial and military support directly and indirectly to Al Qaeda. Friends again? And, if so, perhaps it’s time to dump the “War on Terror” and make a further admission than Vice President Biden was willing to make: the US government is fine with terrorism if it serves its interests. Who even remembers 9/11 any way?