U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army Operating Openly with ISIS, Al-Qaeda's Jabhat al-Nusra
The ISIS announcement of the reestablishment of the caliphate and their subsequent push further into Iraq has considerably changed the playing field and revealed the true nature of the U.S.-backed "moderate, vetted" FSA.
Last week the Washington Post reported on the Syrian "rebel" takeover of the Golan Heights Quneitra border crossing with Israel (where I reported from last year), with the "rebels" capturing the UN peacekeepers stationed at the crossing. The Post noted:
The United Nations gave no further details, but an Israeli military spokesman told CNN that the captors are suspected to be members of al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been fighting alongside more-moderate, Western-backed rebels for control of the area.
The "more-moderate, Western-backed rebels" fighting alongside Jabhat al-Nusra the Post was referring to, but didn't dare name, were none other than the FSA.
This is not the only time the FSA has been caught allied with U.S.-designated terrorist groups. Just a month ago the New York Times quoted a "rebel" field commander saying that the FSA had joined ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra in attacking a border post in Lebanon:
Reached by phone in Arsal, Abu Osama, a member of Mr. Jomaa’s brigade, said that the sole purpose of Saturday’s attacks was to secure the release of Mr. Jomaa and that they were carried out as a combined operation involving fighters from the Free Syrian Army, the Nusra Front and ISIS.
The Times report was quick to note that Abu Osama's claim could not be confirmed, no doubt because that fact would be devastating to the Obama administration's ongoing narrative about the "moderate, vetted" FSA. But the facts about the true nature of the FSA are getting harder to conceal.
In early July I reported here that FSA brigades in eastern Syria had surrendered their arms and pledged allegiance to ISIS. And two weeks ago the Washington Post reported that more FSA units that had been armed and trained by the U.S. were defecting to ISIS -- a fact that ISIS commanders openly bragged about:
For a long time, Western and Arab states supported the Free Syrian Army not only with training but also with weapons and other materiel. The Islamic State commander, Abu Yusaf, added that members of the Free Syrian Army who had received training — from the United States, Turkey and Arab military officers at an American base in Southern Turkey — have now joined the Islamic State. “Now many of the FSA people who the West has trained are actually joining us,” he said, smiling.
As if more evidence were needed, it should be noted that American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by ISIS several weeks ago, reportedly came into ISIS custody when the FSA-aligned Dawud Brigade that kidnapped and held Foley pledged allegiance to ISIS and delivered him to ISIS as a token of their submission.
Since the beginning of the outbreak of war in Syria, some, myself included, were scornful of the idea that the FSA were a moderate force worthy of U.S. support. The D.C. foreign policy establishment, for the most part, fell into line with the Obama administration's narrative or stayed silent to avoid getting disinvited from the cocktail parties.
Even more egregiously, when three members of the DC foreign policy "smart set" (including a former senior Bush National Security Council official) published an article in Foreign Affairs arguing for an alliance with Ahrar al-Sham - at the time led by one of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri's lieutenants and former bin Laden courier -- hardly a word of protest or criticism was uttered.
Then again, this capitulation to the administration's narrative has always been in face of the facts. In March 2013, Aron Lund, an expert in groups fighting in Syria, explained that the FSA was a fictional branding operation intended to draw Western support. And earlier this year the Beirut-based Al-Akhbar observed that the elusive pursuit of a "moderate" opposition in Syria was trying to find "a needle in a haystack," with many Syrian groups touting FSA credentials to obtain U.S. support and using such to conceal their jihadist leanings:
Hundreds of groups claimed to be part of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Announcing their FSA affiliation was a mere pathway to receiving foreign support. Funders - most notably Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait’s Salafis - were keen on the Islamist identity of the groups receiving support without requiring them to announce it publicly.
In 2013, the picture became clearer. The Islamist discourse became public and most groups organized under the rubric of new fronts that are predominantly jihadist in nature. Groups that used to claim affiliation with the FSA united with hardline groups that never once raised the FSA flag [...]
In addition to al-Nusra Front and Jaysh al-Islam, who are affiliated with the Islamic Front, the southern front of the FSA’s offensive is teaming up with small jihadist groups such as the Green Battalion which is believed to be al-Qaeda-affiliated even though it is not well-known in the media.
Meanwhile, senior FSA field commanders who regularly met with top U.S. officials were open about their relationship with ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other jihadist groups:
And yet inside the New York/D.C. media and political establishment bubble, the fiction of the "vetted moderate" Free Syrian Army not only dominates, but is the foundation of the Obama administration's Syrian policy. And with Americans literally losing their heads at the hands of ISIS, and the Obama administration frantically fumbling for some kind of response to the ISIS threat, the financial and military support by the U.S. government and the propaganda backing of the American media for the FSA will likely continue unabated for the foreseeable future.