The PJ Tatler

CIA-Backed, 'Vetted Moderate' Syrians ... Now Openly Working with Al-Qaeda

As I have reported extensively here at PJ Media over the past year, a growing mountain of evidence confirms that the “vetted moderate” Sunni groups that the U.S. has backed in Syria — backing which includes CIA-provided heavy weaponry — have always been working with the very same jihadist groups that the Obama administration and the Washington, D.C. foreign policy “smart set” have consistently claimed they would counter.

Now, a new report establishes that even more CIA-backed “vetted moderate” groups are collaborating with groups designated by the U.S. as terrorist organizations. Specifically, they are collaborating with al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, though at times they have also operated jointly with the Islamic State.

Reuters reported last Thursday that two Free Syrian Army (FSA) units — Division 13 and Fursan al-Haq — are fighting side-by-side with the Nusra Front in northern Syria:

Hardline Islamists fighting side-by-side with groups backed by the United States have made gains in northern Syria in recent weeks while showing rare unity, which some fear may be short-lived.

An Islamist alliance calling itself Army of Fatah, a reference to the conquests that spread Islam across the Middle East from the seventh century, has seized northwestern towns including the provincial capital Idlib from government forces.

The alliance, which includes al-Qaeda’s wing in Syria, known as the Nusra Front, and another hardline militant group, the Ahrar al-Sham movement, is edging closer to the coastal province of Latakia, President Bashar al-Assad’s stronghold.

Fighting alongside them, although excluded from a joint command center, are groups which reject the jihadists’ anti-Western aims and say they receive covert support from the CIA. Two of these are called Division 13 and Fursan al-Haq.

While the Islamist groups appear to be stronger than their Western-backed allies, it is a rare example of cooperation, just weeks after Nusra Front fighters crushed a previous U.S. backed rebel force in a blow to Washington’s Syria strategy.

Remarkably, Reuters (as well as many other establishment media outlets) continues to present this level of cooperation between U.S.-backed groups in Syria and terrorist organizations as “rare.”

This is categorically false.

In an effort to preserve that narrative, Reuters added this howler:

Abu Hamoud, a commander from Division 13, said his group coordinated with Nusra Front, which the United States considers a terrorist organization, but this does not mean it is aligned to it.

As if “coordinating” with al-Qaeda is functionally different from “aligning” with al-Qaeda.

In service of this narrative, establishment media have attempted to create distinctions between Nusra and other U.S.-backed groups. Reports have noted that the Nusra Front had recently taken out two of the major Syrian rebel groups, Harakat al-Hazm (in March) and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (in November), and that both had been trained and received heavy weapons from the United States. However, both groups had been openly cooperating with Nusra before their demise.

Both Hazm and SRF had their “vetted moderate” credentials provided by the D.C. foreign policy establishment, which deemed Hazm as “rebels worth supporting” and SRF as “the West’s best fighting chance against Syria’s Islamist armies.”

Last year, just as SRF was in line to receive CIA-provided anti-tank missiles, SRF commander Jamal Maroof told Western media that he had no intention of fighting al-Qaeda.

A few weeks later, the Wall Street Journal reported that SRF had been fighting alongside the Nusra Front in the Golan Heights of southern Syria. In September, Agence France Presse reported that SRF had struck a truce with the Islamic State, thus ending any notion that they ever had a chance “against Syria’s Islamist armies.”

When Liz Sly of the Washington Post interviewed the commander of Hazm in April 2014 just as they were beginning to receive heavy weapons shipments from the U.S., the commander gave a double-sided response about Nusra:

LS: You have already participated in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. What are your relations with Jabhat al-Nusra?

AA: Jabhat al-Nusra is a military formation, a fighting battalion that exists on the ground like any other. We have no strong or meaningful relationship with them. They fight on their fronts, and we fight on ours.

LS: What do you think of them?

AA: They hold responsibility for bringing ISIS fighters to Syria from across the world. This was a mistake committed against the Syrian people. I think of them as a group of people fighting to topple the regime, but if they change their ideology to resemble that of ISIS or bring death and destruction upon the Syrian people, then we won’t allow it.

In September, an article in the L.A. Times reporting from the frontlines in Syria recorded an exchange with two Hazm fighters armed and trained by the U.S. The fighters admitted that they liked Nusra and fought in coordination with them.

Just a few weeks later, as U.S. warplanes began to target the Islamic State in northern SyriaHazm issued an official statement condemning the strikes as “an attack on the revolution” Of the U.S., they demanded “unconditional arming” of the Syrian rebels.

Both groups also released contradictory statements to Western media, attempting to conceal their duplicity and to keep the U.S. weapons spigot open.

When the SRF got caught fighting alongside the Nusra Front, Syrian opposition officials rushed to deny the report. They were in Washington, D.C. at that exact time, lobbying for more weapons:

The president of Syria’s main political opposition group, Ahmed Jarba, is in Washington this week and slated to meet President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. He has been trying to assure the administration that the FSA is best placed to fight al-Qaeda rebels on the ground in Syria.

While word of the cooperation between the FSA and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front came from within the Western-backed group, a member of Mr. Jarba’s delegation in Washington denied it. The conflicting claims were an embarrassing sign of disarray within the group just as it was trying to lobby Washington.

Again, when multiple media reports emerged about SRF’s truce with the Islamic State, the group rushed out a statement — in English, for Western audiences — denying the deal.

Hazm played this game as well. Last July, they signed a statement with eight other groups rejecting “all forms of cooperation and coordination” with the Nusra Front. At the same time, they were cooperating and coordinating with Nusra in Aleppo:

In July, eight West-backed rebel brigades — all recipients of military aid — released a statement of “rejection of all forms of cooperation and coordination” with Al Nusra Front. Harakat Hazm was one of the signatories, even as it fought on the same front lines with the group in Aleppo, battling both Islamic State militants in the north and government forces seeking to retake the city.

In fact, they had signed a statement of alliance with Nusra to prevent the Assad regime from pushing into Aleppo, a copy of which I published here at PJ Media.

The statement rejecting the Nusra Front was for Western consumption. The statement of alliance with Nusra was the reality. The media, the Obama administration, and their supporters in Congress pushing to provide more weapons to the “rebels” ignored the statement of alliance.

The media’s underreporting of the coordination between the “vetted moderates” and designated terrorist groups is one of the biggest scandals of the coverage of the Syrian war. But while they have buried the lede, that’s not to say it hasn’t gone unreported, making the continuation of the narrative all the more inexcusable. Here’s a sample over the past year:

May 7: Wall Street Journal reports SRF joins with Al-Qaeda to help take hilltops in Golan Heights

July 9: Al Jazeera quotes ISIS leader saying that they purchase U.S. weapons from and maintain good relations with the FSA

Aug 3: New York Times cites FSA commander saying joint FSA, Nusra Front, and ISIS force attack a border post with Lebanon

Aug 18: Islamic State commander openly brags about defections by U.S.-trained and armed FSA fighters

Aug 28: Washington Post says Nusra Front aided by Western-backed rebels capture UN Quneitra border crossing with Israel, abducting 43 Fijian peacekeepers

Sept 7: L.A. Times notes Hazm fighting alongside Al-Qaeda in Aleppo, quoting fighters admitting the relationship

Sept 8: Daily Star (Lebanon) quotes FSA brigade commander saying his forces were working with Islamic State and Nusra Front near Syria/Lebanon border

Sept 13: The Hill reports that SRF had declared a truce with the Islamic State

Sept 24: L.A. Times notes Hazm condemnation of U.S. airstrikes targeting ISIS in northern Syria

Nov 1: Reuters says that SRF elements defected to the Nusra Front

Nov 3: International Business Times observes that U.S.-backed rebel groups pledge allegiance, surrender weapons to Nusra Front

Nov 23: The Guardian states that FSA units develop alliances with, even defect to, the Islamic State while condemning U.S. airstrikes

Nov. 28: Associated Press reports close collaboration of U.S.-backed rebels and Al-Qaeda in southern Syria

Dec 24: German journalist who embedded with Islamic State tells France 24 that ISIS is obtaining weapons from Western governments purchased from FSA

Dec 28: New York Times admits that FSA is under effective control of Nusra Front

Feb 18: McClatchy reports that former Obama frontman for Syria, Robert Ford, no longer trusts Syrian rebel groups because they collaborate with jihadist groups

Apr 30: Reuters notes U.S.-armed FSA units in northern Syria allied with Nusra Front

Despite these reports appearing in their own publications, virtually all of these same outlets otherwise continue to characterize — as Reuters did just a few days ago — the collaboration between U.S.-backed groups and terrorist organizations as a “rare” event. Certainly, none of them have made this coordination a recurring theme in their reporting, at best sprinkling these facts in other stories.

Below are my prior articles debunking the “vetted moderate” Syrian rebel narrative:

July 7: U.S. ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Brigades Surrender Weapons, Pledge Allegiance to Islamic State

Sept 3: U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army Operating Openly with ISIS, Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra

Sept 9: Fighter With ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebels Tells L.A. Times They Fight Alongside Al-Qaeda

Sept 10: ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Commander Admits Alliance with ISIS, Confirms PJ Media Reporting

Sept 13: Yet Another U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group Makes Peace with ISIS

Sept 24: U.S.-Backed Syrian Group Harakat al-Hazm Condemns U.S. Strikes on ISIS as ‘Attack on the Revolution’

Nov 2: U.S.-Armed ‘Vetted Moderate’ Syrian Rebel Groups Surrender, Defect to Al-Qaeda

Nov 3: How Obama Walked Boehner and GOP Leadership Off the Syrian Rebel Cliff

Nov 24: More Defections of ‘Vetted Moderate’ Free Syrian Army Rebels to ISIS

Dec 2: US-Backed Syrian Rebels Ally with al-Qaeda in South, Surrender CIA-Supplied Weapons in the North

Dec 14: Report: Al-Qaeda Using CIA-Supplied TOW Anti-Tank Missiles in Northern Syria

Dec 28: NY Times Admits: U.S.-Backed Free Syrian Army Under Effective al-Qaeda Control

March 3: U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebel Group Collapses, U.S.-Supplied Weapons End Up in Al-Qaeda Hands

March 24: Video Shows Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra Using U.S.-Provided TOW Anti-Tank Missiles in Syria

April 16: U.S. Analyst Admits ‘Moderate’ Syrian Rebels Have Been Working with Al-Qaeda All Along

As our own government has backed these groups with American weaponry, it is imperative that the “vetted moderate” narrative be held to account. Hundreds of thousands are dead and millions are displaced in Syria. The terror groups that our leaders said we would confront have instead metastasized, partially due to our “inside-the-Beltway” incompetence.