Syria: US increases support for Al Qaeda
By Simon Korner
The US is raising the stakes in Syria as the Syrian army continues to push back IS and other terrorist forces. The fragile February ceasefire in Syria is in danger of collapse as the battle for Aleppo intensifies. The deal between Russia and the US has been undermined by the massive US arming of Al Nusra, the Al Qaeda organisation in Syria, under cover of the ceasefire that saw Russia withdraw most of its forces.
President Assad, in an interview with NBC, accused the US of “managing” the terrorist groups, which also receive backing from regional powers Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Former US defense intelligence officer Pat Lang said: “The US-supported jihadis associated with Al Nusra… merely ‘pocketed’ the truce as an opportunity to re-fit, re-supply and re-position forces.” Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov believes that the Americans “want to keep Al Nusra in some form and later use it to overthrow” the Assad regime.
Al Nusra, which coheres all the Islamist groups in Aleppo, has received 3,000 tons of US weapons via its allied militia Ahrah ash-Sham – which is part of the Saudi-led High Negotiating Committee and protected by the current ceasefire, essentially providing cover for Al Qaeda. In their attempt to prevent the Syrian army from retaking Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, Al Nusra/Ahrah ash-Sham are deliberately committing atrocities against civilians, a fact under-reported in the western media.
During the initial ceasefire talks, Kerry asked for Al Nusra to be exempt from Russian airstrikes – along with so-called moderate rebels – claiming they were fighting IS. He then requested that the ‘moderates’ be given time to separate themselves from Al Nusra, an impossible request as the groups are not distinct entities. The western media has promoted Kerry’s dissimulation, with Reuters and others regularly referring to Al Nusra as ‘rebels’ rather than Al Qaeda.
After having spent $384 million on the creation of a new rebel army in Syria – an admission that all the previous claims of large-scale ‘moderate’ opposition forces were spurious – the US only managed to produce 150 trained fighters. That failure is now being replicated in southern Syria, where the US has been arming and training the New Syrian Army (NSA), a Sunni militia allied to the feeble Free Syrian Army. The new force has already suffered severe defeats – in late June attacking the IS stronghold of Al-Bukamal on the Iraqi border with 200-300 men, and in early July again attacking IS near the Syria-Jordan border at Bir Mahrutha.
As the Syrian army continues to gain ground, frustrated hawks in the US are calling for intensified military action. In June, a ‘dissent’ memo by 51 officials in the State department urged Obama to use ‘military force as an option’. Ash Carter, the US Defense Secretary, has said he wants to supply ground-to-air missiles to the rebels, so they can shoot down Russian fighter planes – a dangerous escalation.
So far, the US strategy of toppling Assad is failing, but the dangers of a fragmented Syria, riven by sectarianism, remain high – especially with the US build-up of the northern Syrian Kurdish enclave, Rojava, a territory that would provide a secure pipeline route for Qatari and Saudi oil into Turkey. The struggle continues to re-establish a unitary secular Syrian state in control of its own destiny.
"After having spent $384 million on the creation of a new rebel army in Syria - an admission that all the previous claims of large-scale 'moderate' opposition forces were spurious - the US only managed to produce 150 trained fighters. That failure is now being replicated in southern Syria, where the US has been arming and training the New Syrian Army, a Sunni militia allied to the feeble Free Syrian Army."