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Syria: Everything You Wanted to Know About Islamist Rebels Who Can Shoot Down Planes

Now these more advanced weapons were reportedly bought in Croatia by the Saudis. The Saudis back the Salafists, so presumably the new arms are in the hands of forces more extreme than the Brotherhood.

Finally, the Brown Moses site makes some important points about the military situation in Syria:

 Generally the opposition in the south have been poorly equipped compared to the groups in the north. ... As the opposition in the north captured more bases and more equipment it allowed them to attack increasingly heavily defended bases, with the capture of anti-aircraft weapons, like MANPADS, allowing them to defend from attacks from the air, which in turn meant they could deploy captured artillery and tanks, which were essential in attacking heavily defended bases.

The rebel groups in the north are dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists who are better armed than the non-Islamist sections of the opposition. If things go on this way -- and they probably won't change -- when (not if) the rebels win (which might take a long time), the well-armed, anti-American, anti-Christian, and anti-Semitic Islamists will take over Syria.

And, more immediately, what kind of MANPAD system are the rebels getting through Turkey -- with U.S. approval -- and exactly which groups hold these weapons? The al-Qaeda affiliates? Salafis? Muslim Brotherhood?

Incidentally, while Jabhat al-Nusra -- the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda -- has not been seen with MANPADs, it has been shown to have obtained some of the Croatian heavy weapons distributed within Syria. These were supposedly to be kept out of its hands due to U.S. policy of not letting the arms coming into Syria through Saudi-Turkish efforts get to such dangerous enemies. The new proclamation by the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, that Jabhat al-Nusra is part of his organization is worrisome. Even though it has long been known that Jabhat al-Nusra was affiliated with al-Qaeda, if this statement is true it is now directly under an organization responsible for the deaths of scores of American soldiers and civilians in Iraq.

The earlier declaration from two dozen insurgent Salafist groups in Syria which defended Jabhat al-Nusra against a U.S. attempt to isolate it is worrisome. How can Jabhat al-Nusra be isolated when it has so many allies? How will advanced weapons be kept out of al-Qaeda's hands when they are being given to friendly Salafist militias? In other words, in a real sense, albeit unintentionally, U.S. policy is backing al-Qaeda.

It is not true that the United States supported Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, since it was backing different groups and at the time bin Laden's backing was coming from Saudi Arabia. But now, after September 11, the United States is not only again involved in an insurgency where bin Ladenist forces are as well, but also involved are many of the other groups sympathetic to them.

What is most dangerous is not that Salafist groups, including al-Qaeda, will take over Syria politically, but that they will be given a relatively free scope to act as they please. The U.S. government is basically putting its hope on a Muslim Brotherhood-led coalition or even a Muslim Brotherhood regime restraining al-Qaeda, which might happen if Jabhat al-Nusra attacks the new Syrian regime and thus faces repression at its hands.

If you are interested in reading more about Syria, you're welcome to read my book The Truth About Syria online or download it for free.