Though many scoffed when the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Jabhat Al-Nusra, rebranded itself Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, that cosmetic change was apparently enough to convince the US government to start sending them arms.
In the recent push by rebels in the city of Aleppo, Al-Nusra /Al-Sham took a leading role and was reportedly among the rebels groups who received US weapons. Those weapons will first be used to kill Syrian government troops and after that, well, who knows?
Many, if not most, of the rebel groups fighting the Syrian government are jihadist and few have any serious objection to Al-Nusra participating in their operations, especially given that Al-Nusra has proven to be one of the most effective groups on the battlefield. If Al-Sham and fellow Sunni jihadists prevail over Syrian government forces, a genocide will likely commence against religious minorities in Syria, starting with the Alawites and moving on to other Shiites.
From the Atlantic Council:
Fateh al-Sham’s support extends beyond the immediate political and military opposition. Roshd Virtual University in Istanbul, Turkey offered 100 scholarships to the children of the fighters who participated in Aleppo’s battle. The opposition’s desperation to change the balance of power in Syria has made them embrace Fateh al-Sham and turn a blind eye to the fact that it was until recently the Nusra Front, an internationally designated terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda.
According the Syria analyst Charles Lister, there is a significant subsection of the Syrian opposition that does not oppose Fateh al-Sham’s participation in Aleppo related military operations. Moreover, Lister said that opposition forces fighting in Aleppo received for the first time American weapons that are normally designated for forces fighting the Islamic State (ISIS). The opposition’s takeaway is that the United States does not object to preserving the balance on the ground with the Syrian regime, even if doing so indirectly bolsters Fateh al-Sham.
While it would be a mistake to say this is the first time the US gave assistance to Al Qaeda-linked rebels in Syria, it is a pretty stunning digression from earlier claims from US officials that assisting Al Qaeda and ISIS was completely off limits. Now the US is arming them in one of the most crucial battlefields of the Syrian Civil War.
Then again, Al-Nusra /Al-Sham claims it no longer is within the Al Qaeda network (though they also appear to still hold much of the same beliefs). I guess a rebrand is all it takes for the US to take a group from sworn enemy to ally worthy of receiving anti-tank weapons.
What could go wrong?