If one event can symbolize the incoherence of the Obama administration’s support for the so-called “vetted moderate” rebels in Syria, it would be one of Obama’s last acts in his last full day in office.
On Friday the Pentagon reported that they had struck a terror training camp near Idlib, killing more than one hundred Al-Qaeda terrorists.
The wrinkle is that several members of a group that had previously been backed by the CIA and received TOW missiles as part of an Obama administration program—and were at the camp and embedded with Al-Qaeda—were also killed.
The New York Times reported:
The B-52 strike on Thursday, the Pentagon said, was directed at the Shaykh Sulayman Training Camp in Idlib. Pentagon officials said that it had been in operation for several years but had only recently become a base for “core Al Qaeda” extremists, who have largely come from outside Syria to fight and plot attacks. All told, 14 bombs and missiles were used in that attack.
“The removal of this training camp disrupts training operations and discourages hard-line Islamist and Syrian opposition groups from joining or cooperating with Al Qaeda on the battlefield,” Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
The airstrike was condemned by the Syrian opposition group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which complained that the camp for new recruits was one of theirs and that the practical effect would be to eliminate fighters who are confronting Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian leader. Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front, claims to have broken with Al Qaeda, but American officials say they are still a Qaeda affiliate.
But it quickly emerged that not only was this an al-Qaeda terror training camp, but one operated with a rebel group previously supported and “vetted” by the CIA, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki:
— Riam Dalati (@Dalatrm) January 19, 2017
— Jennifer Cafarella (@JennyCafarella) January 20, 2017
And it was quickly noted that Zenki had previously been supported by the Obama administration and many Western think tank “experts”:
Nur al Din Al Zanki (formerly received US-made TOWs) was portrayed as one of the groups the US should more fully support. Garbage analysis.
— Thomas Joscelyn (@thomasjoscelyn) January 21, 2017
As I reported here at PJ Media just two months ago, Zenki was using CIA-provided TOW missiles as recently as late November, even posting video firing the missiles to their Twitter account:
استهداف سيارة محملة بالذخيرة على جبهة منيان بصاروخ تاو ومقتل أكثر من ٧ عناصر pic.twitter.com/5DAZRK8jT1
— حركةنور الدين الزنكي (@NDZankiMotion) November 21, 2016
Even then, Zenki was openly allied with Al-Qaeda:
Nur al-Din al-Zanki – part of Jaysh al Fath alliance (led by rebranded Al Qaeda & allied jihadis) in Aleppo – fires US-made TOW: pic.twitter.com/MRcojYVJDf
— Thomas Joscelyn (@thomasjoscelyn) November 22, 2016
According to a report in September by Sam Heller for the Century Foundation, State Department officials were in continued communications with Zenki leadership:
U.S. diplomats had been in regular communication with these factions before, during and after the failed ceasefire. According to rebel sources, the core opposition factions with whom U.S. Special Envoy Michael Ratney has remained in contact include the Damascus-centered Army of Islam; opposition faction and Islamist movement Ahrar al-Sham; major Aleppo-area factions Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki and the Levant Front; and several others. The short list includes factions long considered outside the bounds of U.S. support or, in the case of Nour al-Din al-Zinki, that have been cut off from U.S. backing. All of them, however, would need to be on board for a successful ceasefire.
The relationship between the CIA and Zenki became problematic when video emerged of Zenki fighters beheading a child soldier back in July:
— PJ Media (@PJMedia_com) July 20, 2016
Following the bombing of the joint Al-Qaeda/Zenki terror camp on Thursday, Western analysts that have been enthusiastic in supporting the Syrian rebel movement were quick to distance the CIA from Zenki:
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) January 20, 2017
But just a few months ago, those same analysts described Zenki as “US-vetted” and indicated that Zenki was back in the good graces of the Obama administration and being rehabilitated:
Reports of armed clashes & “arrests” last night, between US-vetted Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki & Jabhat al-Nusra in #Idlib.
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) June 2, 2016
@AbuJamajem It’s a blurry situation – but they are receiving TOWs again, likely as a test for getting fully back onto the “vetted” program.
— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) June 2, 2016
It’s no surprise, then, that those analysts have been called out on the inconsistencies, including during an Atlantic Council panel earlier this month:
“I knew much of their leadership (Zenki) & not in a million years did they represent the organization they represent today” @Charles_Lister
— Bassem (@BBassem7) January 13, 2017
Now that the Obama administration is at an end, it is expected that the new Trump administration will be ending or severely curtailing U.S. support for Syrian rebel groups.
As I’ve reported here at PJ Media since July 2014 in dozens of articles, Obama leaves a long trail of constant failure — sometimes backed by GOP congressional leadership — that should serve as a warning against any such future adventures:
Sept. 13, 2014: Yet Another U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group Makes Peace with ISIS
July 20, 2016: CIA-Vetted, “Moderate” Syrian Rebels Behead Child Soldier