U.S. 'Vetted Moderate' Syrians Defect to Al-Qaeda Affiliate
Reports are emerging this morning that a battalion of Faylaq al-Sham fighters that had previously been vetted as "moderates" by the U.S. has defected to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the recently re-branded al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.
This is yet one more episode of U.S.-vetted Syrian rebel groups defecting to U.S.-designated terrorist groups in recent years. Just a few weeks ago, I reported here at PJ Media that U.S.-supported Free Syrian Army troops were openly allied with a group the State Department had designated a terrorist organization just one week before.
News of the defection of the Muhammad Rasoolullah Brigade of Faylaq al-Sham operating around Idlib initially appeared on Twitter:
— Nasser Rahman (@rah622) October 19, 2016
— Aymenn J Al-Tamimi (@ajaltamimi) October 20, 2016
Faylaq al-Sham, backed by Turkey, is currently involved in the push against the Islamic State:
— AliCemilKaya® (@AliCemilKaya_) October 15, 2016
Faylaq al-Sham has its roots in the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and its member have been branded "Syria's moderate Islamists." Undoubtedly, the "experts" will lament this defection as a shock brought about by military necessities on the ground.
But if the so-called "vetted moderate" groups that receive U.S. weapons later turn terrorist, what is the point of the so-called U.S. "vetting" anyway?
The "experts" may also downplay this defection by claiming that Jabhat Fateh al-Sham cut ties with al-Qaeda, but nothing could be further from the truth. All the group did was rebrand -- with permission from al-Qaeda.
In fact, one of the top Jabhat Fateh al-Sham leaders present at the rebranding announcement was Abu Faraj al-Masri, a longtime lieutenant of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Masri was killed in a U.S. drone strike earlier this month.
But the myth of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham's separation from al-Qaeda continues to circulate:
Guys, Nusrah didn't leave AQ. Jolani never said that. It was more a move of rebranding. Not that difficult to understand.
— Caleb Weiss (@Weissenberg7) July 29, 2016
This whole notion that Jabhat Fatah al Sham (frm. Nusrah) actually split from al Qaeda needs to stop, guys. It's simply false.
— Caleb Weiss (@Weissenberg7) September 10, 2016
Meanwhile, defections from Faylaq al-Sham and Free Syrian Army units to terrorist groups may continue in the ever-shifting alliances on the ground in Syria.
The Long War Journal has more background on Faylaq al-Sham, including documenting their past coordination with designated terrorist groups.