US intervention in the Syrian Civil War continues to collide with previous US government claims concerning terrorism and national security. The US is now, amazingly, back in partnership with Al Qaeda, which has been fighting to overthrow the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad.
The CIA has been running weapons to rebel groups working with the Syrian Al Qaeda affiliate, Al Nusra, since 2013 (if not earlier). In theory, the weapons were only supposed to go to so-called “moderate” rebels, who supported a secular democracy for Syria. But, as even President Barack Obama conceded, such groups did not really exist on any serious level in Syria and the program was based on a “fantasy.”
As Middle East expert and journalist Charles Glass noted in a recent interview with Shadowproof, the US has been completely unable to find a secular democratic force in Syria. Rebel forces are dominated by jihadists dedicated to imposing a theocratic government on Syria if they prevail.
In cities such as Aleppo, the civilian population is caught in the crossfire, getting bombed by the Syrian government and shelled by the rebels. The rebels’ support goes well beyond the CIA and includes countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey. Those countries have also supported ISIS—a group that would be impossible to defeat without the Assad government, according to Glass.
The only prospect for peace is a deal that was initially being negotiated in Geneva, Switzerland, between the United States, Russia, the Syrian government, and some of the rebel forces with the exclusion of ISIS and Al Nusra.
One of the rebels groups that is party to the peace negotiation is particularly problematic, according to Juan Cole, writing at The Nation. The group known as the Army of Islam, or Jaysh al-Islam (JI), is one of Saudi Arabia’s proxies and has been put in a leadership position in the negotiations with the blessing of the United States. Russia and the Syrian government both reportedly object to JI even being invited to the negotiations given they are a jihadist group.
While the negotiations go on in Switzerland, JI has been battling other rebel groups in Syria, including those using those CIA weapons:
Many former [Free Syrian Army] units have defected to Al Qaeda or ISIS. The United States has been adamant in continuing to support the remnants of the FSA, even though many have either renounced democracy or pledged vengeance on Syria’s Shiites and other minorities, or insisted they will impose a fundamentalist vision of Islamic law on the entire population. The CIA claims to have “vetted” more than 30 such insurgent groups as having no ties to Al Qaeda. And then it passed to these fighters, through Saudi Arabia, TOW anti-tank munitions, making them formidable against Syrian armor. The problem is that the “vetted” groups keep showing up on the battlefield as de facto allies of Al Qaeda in Syria. One of the vetted groups that has at least sometimes used TOWs is the Rahman Corps, which has a strong position in East Ghouta. Last year, the Rahman Corps shared an operation room with the Army of Islam.
Now there is a problem. In the past month the Rahman Corps has flipped, joined with Al Qaeda, and begun attacking Alloush’s group, the Army of Islam. That’s right: The leader of the negotiating team at Geneva on behalf of the rebels is now besieged by one of his own US-backed constituents, which is likely using CIA-provided weapons against him. And it is doing so in a battlefield alliance with Al Qaeda.
Whoops. Though this is not a new phenomenon. The US’s support for the Free Syrian Army has been a disaster from the very beginning. When President Obama bypassed a rule prohibiting arming terrorists to send weapons to the FSA, those weapons quickly found their way into Al Qaeda’s hands.
And just in case things in Syria did not sound chaotic enough, a war recently broke out between rebel groups back by the CIA and Kurds backed by the Pentagon. President Obama may call the weapons program a fantasy, but it looks a lot more like a nightmare.
While President Obama has been able to keep fewer US boots on the ground in the Middle East than President Bush, the effort to play God in the affairs of other nations remains unchanged.