A few of us have been predicting for several years now that the so-called “moderate” rebels in Syria backed by the CIA would inevitably collapse into the surging camp of Sunni extremists.
And now that is exactly what has happened, thus signaling the beginning of the end of any pretension of a “moderate opposition” to back in Syria.
In September 2013, the belief that the “moderates” vastly outnumbered the extremists of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra was taken as gospel by the Obama administration, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and the D.C. foreign policy establishment. Those of us challenging that conventional wisdom were a pretty small circle.
Now, the so-called “vetted moderates” are flocking to the banner of the rebranded al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, as the CIA halts their weapons pipeline while the smaller “moderate” groups fall willingly or unwillingly into the extremist camp.
So much for all that “vetting” by the CIA.
Reuters reported earlier this week:
CIA-coordinated military aid for rebels in northwest Syria has been frozen since they came under major Islamist attack last month, rebel sources said, raising doubts about foreign support key to their war against President Bashar al-Assad.
Rebel officials said that no official explanation had been given for the move this month following the jihadist assault, though several said they believed the main objective was to prevent arms and cash falling into Islamist militant hands. But they said they expected the aid freeze to be temporary.
The halt in assistance, which has included salaries, training, ammunition and in some cases guided anti-tank missiles, is a response to jihadist attacks and has nothing to do with U.S. President Donald Trump replacing Barack Obama in January, two U.S. officials familiar with the CIA-led program said.
As I have reported extensively here at PJ Media for several years, the “vetted moderates” have always played a double-game with jihadists groups. And now the Washington Post reports today that it has finally caught up with them.
— Katherine Zimmerman (@KatieZimmerman) February 23, 2017
The biggest surviving rebel stronghold in northern Syria is falling under the control of al-Qaeda-linked extremists amid a surge of rebel infighting that threatens to vanquish what is left of the moderate rebellion.
The ascent of the extremists in the northwestern province of Idlib coincides with a suspension of aid to moderate rebel groups by their international allies.
The commanders of five of the groups say they were told earlier this month by representatives of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey that they would receive no further arms or ammunition until they unite to form a coherent front against the jihadists, a goal that has eluded the fractious rebels throughout the six years of fighting.
The freeze on supplies is unrelated to the change of power in Washington, where the Trump administration is engaged in a review of U.S. policy on Syria, U.S. officials say. It also does not signal a complete rupture of support for the rebels, who are continuing to receive salaries, say diplomats and rebel commanders.
Rather, the goal is to ensure supplies do not fall into extremist hands, by putting pressure on the rebels to form a more efficient force, the rebel commanders say they have been told.
Instead it is the extremists who have closed ranks and turned against the U.S.-backed rebels, putting the al-Qaeda-linked groups with whom the moderates once uneasily coexisted effectively in charge of key swaths of territory in Idlib, the most important stronghold from which the rebels could have hoped to sustain a challenge to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Concerns about U.S.-supplied weapons falling into the hands of jihadist groups are grounded in a long history of defections of U.S.-backed “moderates,” longstanding cooperation between “moderates” and extremists, and losses to extremist groups on the battlefield.
I’ve noted these issues over the past couple of years, and even just a few weeks ago:
— Patrick Poole (@pspoole) January 28, 2017
— PJ Media (@PJMedia_com) October 20, 2016
— PJ Media (@PJMedia_com) October 27, 2015
— PJ Media (@PJMedia_com) September 22, 2015
— PJ Media (@PJMedia_com) November 24, 2014
— PJ Media (@PJMedia_com) July 7, 2014
Now the political infighting and blame game about the demise of the “moderate” Syrian opposition can begin.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 23, 2017
Rand Paul notes our effort to topple Assad “has really made the chaos worse in Syria.” https://t.co/txJSmE06rC
— Max Abrahms (@MaxAbrahms) February 19, 2017
As I’ve said for years, this regime change war doesn’t serve our interests or the interests of the Syrian people. pic.twitter.com/EfNv4FFlDR
— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) February 13, 2017
Though we may need to be aware of calls by the “smart set” to now chase after mythical “moderate al-Qaeda” unicorns to double down on our defeat:
EXCLUSIVE: Petraeus is pushing to recruit al Qaeda fighters to beat ISIS. http://t.co/hwrEwJpdz9
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) September 2, 2015
— Will McCants (@will_mccants) January 24, 2014
To U.S. Allies, Al Qaeda Affiliate in Syria Becomes the Lesser Evil http://t.co/D7NEJVgXXg
— WSJ World News (@WSJworld) June 11, 2015
And it warrants reminding readers of the depths of how absurd our Syrian policy became, with Pentagon rebels fighting CIA rebels and the Pentagon spending $4 million each for specially-trained “vetted” fighters — with many defecting or being arrested by extremist groups before even reaching the battlefield and only a handful actually joining the fight against the Islamic State.
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) March 28, 2016
— POLITICO (@politico) July 9, 2015
— CNN NationalSecurity (@NatSecCNN) July 7, 2015
West suffers new Syria setback as US-trained rebels arrestedhttp://t.co/E3oRc1Xr3v
— Times World Desk (@timesworld) September 20, 2015
For nearly three years, I’ve been reporting here at PJ Media about the problems of the so-called Syrian “vetted moderate” “rebel” fighters, particularly their open associations with al-Qaeda and ISIS, in some cases defecting to those terrorist groups.
Maybe now some concession can be made that this was the trajectory of where this was heading all along?
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