US Asked Moderate Syrian Rebels to Fight Al-Nusra

John Glaser, May 08, 2013

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Much has been made of the Obama administration’s decision to set up shop in Jordan under the pretense of containing the Syrian conflict and of training so-called moderate elements in the Syrian rebel opposition. That is the pretense that has so far been publicized in the news media and is thus the pretense that critics have denounced as a matter of policy.

The popular refrain among those who oppose US intervention in Syria has been that the Obama administration is siding with Sunni jihadists to unseat the Assad regime. I’ve argued that is not what is happening, or at least that it is grossly oversimplified.

Another piece of the puzzle has been made public with a report from journalist Phil Sands who interviewed one of the Syrian rebel commanders that met with US officials in Jordan. According to him, “the Americans were more interested in talking about Jabhat Al Nusra, the Al Qaeda-affiliated group waging war on the Syrian regime, than they were in helping the rebels advance on Damascus.”

The Americans began discussing the possibility of drone strikes on Al Nusra camps inside Syria and tried to enlist the rebels to fight their fellow insurgents.

“The US intelligence officer said, ‘We can train 30 of your fighters a month, and we want you to fight Al Nusra’,” the rebel commander recalled.

Opposition forces should be uniting against Mr Al Assad’s more powerful and better-equipped army, not waging war among themselves, the rebel commander replied. The response from a senior US intelligence officer was blunt.

“I’m not going to lie to you. We’d prefer you fight Al Nusra now, and then fight Assad’s army. You should kill these Nusra people. We’ll do it if you don’t,” the rebel leader quoted the officer as saying.

What the commander says transpired in Jordan illustrates a dilemma that has preoccupied, even paralysed, Syria’s opposition and their international supporters – how to deal with the expanding role of Islamic extremists in the anti-Assad insurgency.

Other meetings with Western and Arab intelligence services have shown a similar obsession with Al Nusra, the commander said.

“All anyone wants is hard information about Al Nusra, it seems to be all they are really interested in. It’s the most valuable commodity you can have when dealing with these intelligence agencies,” he said.

According to this rebel commander, his goal of overthrowing the Assad regime was sidelined in favor of American plans to have the rebels fight among themselves. This falls in line with several other publicly available accounts of the US approach.

In describing Jordan’s role serving as a conduit for arms going to a select group of Syrian rebels, the Guardian reported last month that the US and its allies “have sharply increased their backing of some rebels to try to stop the advances of al-Qaeda-linked groups among them.”

“A push to defeat al-Qaeda, rather than an outright bid to oust Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, is Jordan’s driving force,” the Guardian added.

In addition to the clandestine effort in Jordan to fight the Nusra Front, the Obama administration has also sent the CIA back into Iraq to support Iraqi state militias (the Shiite regime in Baghdad is an ally of Assad, nominally at least) to fight al-Qaeda affiliates pouring into Syria to join the rebellion. The Obama administration even considered a request from the Iraqi government to use drones to bomb Islamist rebel forces along the Iraq-Syria border.

It’s true that Obama has sent non-lethal and (indirectly) lethal aid to the rebels, despite the fact that the great bulk of the fighters who actually matter are jihadists. But the truth is, Obama has ruled out sending decisive aid, lethal or non-lethal, to Syria’s rebels. He reportedly overruled the suggestions of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey – all of whom advocated arming the rebels. Instead, Obama made policy moves like designating the al-Qaeda in Iraq offshoot in Syria a terrorist organization and pressuring Saudi Arabia not to send heavier arms like anti-aircraft weapons.

As the State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said back in January, even as the US supports the Syrian opposition in some abstract way, it is of utmost importance to “maintain the functions of the state.” Syria may have been floated as a target for regime change by the Bush administration’s most fanciful neoconservatives, but Obama sees the chaos of Sunni jihadists taking control of Syria as a much worse outcome than Assad sticking around a while longer.

That said, this policy shift comes far too late. The Syrian war is now early in its third year and weapons from Washington’s Wahabi zealots in Saudi Arabia and in places like Qatar have undoubtedly made their way into the hands of jihadists. The protracted conflict, as Peter Harling and Sarah Birke write at The Middle East Research and Information Project, “never would have reached such cataclysmic proportions were it not for more than a little help from abroad.”

“The opposition would have thought twice about taking up arms had it not been convinced by shallow shows of Western outrage that it would not be left to face the consequences alone,” they argue.

US foreign policy is constantly remedying the catastrophes it has previously wrought. Bush’s war for regime change in Iraq gave rise to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Obama’s meddling (and that of his allies in the Gulf) in Syria’s civil conflict prompted AQI to move to Syria and fight Assad as Jabhat al-Nusra. Now the meddling continues to try and eliminate al-Nusra, which has quickly become the foremost element in Syria’s rebellion. It is an endless trail of failures, leading to more interventions, which lead to more failures.




22 Responses to “US Asked Moderate Syrian Rebels to Fight Al-Nusra”

  1. FSA will never fight Nusra

  2. [...] US Asked Moderate Syrian Rebels to Fight Al-Nusra [...]

  3. this is what all israel and us wants for syria. Unfortunately, these moron and murdering arabs have no idea who is controlling them and what they are acieving for us and israel.

  4. The same thing happend in Yugoslavia , The only place it has not happend yet is Russia and Israel .Both Russia and Israel know what they are up against . They both have hundreds of yrs of sucesfull coexisting with Islamic peoples . The United States and most of western Europe believe Islam is just another religion that they can live peacabley with . This just has never been true , becuase of the constant Jihad has always been a important part of the Islamic religion . Not a lot different than the great commision for the Christian religion .

  5. The militant arm of Islam has been created by USA under Reagan to get proxy fighters against communist Afghanistan. They wrote and printed militant books to teach then hate and killing.
    Deatils and proof:

    SPY EYES – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that the USA created Al Qaeda/Jihadis/Mujahedin
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5oMyZwz10Q
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va

    The CIA’s Islamist Terrorist Network
    http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2012/09/12/

  6. there's a gaggle of terrorist imbeciles in the photo above.

  7. Well, according to Greg Grandin it started under Jimmy Carter before the Soviety Invasion of Afghanistan. Claims Carter was funding the Muhdajeen (sorry for spelling). But, yeah I would agree with thier assement that it was pushed even futher by Reagan.

  8. Jihad is an important part of the Islamic religion, but the not the Jihad that you idiots think it is. The Jihad that the western world knows is "Holy War" which has no meaning in the Islamic religion and doesn't exist in the Qur'an. It is the boogie man that the West created to have constant fighting with the rest of the world. Jihad comes from "Johd", which means potential. Jihad means "struggle". A student working to get into college is a muhajed. A mom caring for her children is a mujahida. A man working to feed his family is a mujahid. A man fighting to protect his country and land is a mujahid.

    A man killing innocent people for no apparent reason is a murderer, not a mujahid.

    Ignorance of the people of powerful nations is more dangerous than the stupid "Jihad" you keep shoving down people's throats and ears.

  9. To the author of this article, don’t be so naive.. FSA and the nusra front are both backed by the intelligence community..just because publicly they labeled them terrorist doesn’t mean covertly there not supporting them..

  10. The U.S. appears to be employing the same policy that they adopted during the war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980's. That is arm and support both sides of the conflict just enough to keep the war going. Therefore both sides are decimated making it easier for the U.S. and its client state Israel to move in and establish control.

  11. Big Zbig came in under Jack Kennedy, weaseled over into Carter, then he and his Afghan-born Columbia university trained protege, Khalilzad, would go into Reagan's admin. Brzezinski is the link. 1998 video interview has him bragging about it…should have pushed him off the radar. But he popped up under Obama…yep. His son Mark Brzesinski was in charge of Bill Clinton's SE European policy –ie Kosovo, Bosnia…etc. yep. And Khalilzad was under Dubya in Afghanistan and Iraq. Khalilzad and Poindexter worked together in Iraq implementing El Salvador Option as per Cheney's requests. Robert Ford cut his teeth as protege to Poindexter. Later he would be appointed to UN Ambassador to Syria and instigate dissenting voice to rise up…yep.

    And now Obama wants a contra-war inside Syria…classic model of game playing. Actually quite status quo. An opposition force should be able to see this model coming a mile away. The downside of course is its very messy and deadly. The upshot is dragging if the myopic conservatives could see the bigger picture in Benghazi, then they might be able to kneecap Obama's push in Syria. IE expose him for breaking international law. The proxy war if every exposed to the US public should be enough to cripple Democratic Party power, might even end a presidency ..but that would take quite an effort. and people are so ruled by their partisanship in the US…loyalist to the party as opposed to ethics…rant complete.

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  15. I agree, al Nusra has numbers of allies while the secular fighters are outnumbered. It's obvious, the US are not that stupid thinking there are secular in Syria. So this article are either full of b.s or the opposition fighters are probably bluffing to get weapons from the US.

  16. Israel did not yet and never declare to rule arab unlike iran chanted to wipe out israel. Now israel only wants independence of state which iran declared israel existence as an insult.Now israel always react in advance against their destruction like a syrian bound delivery to hezbollah powerful guided precise accurate missiles bound to hezbollah. All sunnis fear iranian project because they feel a defeated sect and a second class citizen once shiite rule sunnis like whats happening in iraq. SUNNIS HATES ISRAEL BUT NEVER FEAR ISRAEL, SUNNIS ONLY FEAR IRANIAN SHIITE PROJECTS AND RULING INFLUENCE.
    Since hezbollah is a resistance to israel, Some Lebanon sunni sheikh is not against Hezbollah disarmament they only fear iranian influence and project that will defeat status in politics.

    AL QAEDA HAS EXTREME INTERPRETATION IF ISLAM. THE U.S.A. ONLY WANTS MODERATE DEMOCRATIC UNHARSH ISLAM TO OTHER RELIGION, UNLIKE AL QAEDA INTERPRETATION TO KILL ALL UNBELIEVERS OF ISLAM, ALSO THE SECTARIAN WAR TO ESTABLISH ISLAMIC CALIPHATE WHO REALLY THE DESCENDANT OF PURE ISLAM EITHER THE SUNNIS OR SHIITES (BOTH HATE THE JEWS). THEY CONTESTED AND COMPETE THE STYLE OF RULING AND PROJECTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST. THE U.S.A FUNDING OF AL QAEDA DURING 1980'S IS PART OF COLD WAR ERA. BOTH AL QAEDA AND THE U.S.A. HAVE THEIR OWN HIDDEN INTEREST THEY JUST RIDE ON EACH OTHER TO OVERTHROW THEIR BARRIERS. NOW THEY REVEAL THEIR TRUE PURPOSE THATS WHY U.S.A. IS VERY RELUCTANT TO GIVE AL QAEDA IN SYRIA DESCENT WEAPONS TO FSA IN SYRIA ALONG WITH AL QAEDA WHICH WAS OUT GUNNED, UNMATCHED WITH SYRIAN ARMY WELL EQUIPPED FULLY ARMED AND UNDER CONTRACT WITH POWERFUL RUSSIAN WEAPONS SUPPLY. NOW THE U.S.A KNOW THAT AL QAEDA IS WORST CRIMINAL THEN TO ASSADS WHO SLAUGTHER HIS OWN PEOPLE THRU AERAL BOMBING, PRISON TORTURE AND SHABIHA MASACCRES AND INDISCRIMINATE SHELLING. THESE IS A WAR BETWEEN TWO EVIL. THATS IS WHY THE WORLD IS IN SILENCE SPECIALLY THE U.S.A. ONLY GIVE NON LETHAL AID TO REBELS AND REFUGEES LIKE MEDICINE. NEITHER BOTH SIDES WHO WILL WIN ASSAD OR THE REBEL, THE U.S.A. WILL NOT GAIN A CREDIBLE ALLY OR PEACE DEAL FOR WORLDS STABILITY AND SECURITY.

  17. you may have an important blog right here! would you wish to make some invite posts on my blog?

  18. wow that is really succint analysis – usa & isreal must be smacking lips at getting hezbollah & al nusra fighting each other in syria with dribble of arms from iran & saudi's.
    let em wear down – then – usa gets al quaeda sectarianism out of iraq & isreal can go into south lebanon & mop up remanents of hezballoh.
    dang they aren't mentioning this on the nightly news!

  19. I agree with what you're saying – a military victory for either side will be a bad thing (but so will a long civil war). This would be much easier to read and more people would read it if you turned caps lock off though

  20. This is an interesting post by John Glaser but i think it exaggerates and slightly misinterprets its sources. For instance the Guardian article quoting unnamed "western officials" does not say the US prefers Assad staying in power to Al Qa'ida taking over – it seems to say they think the NATO-Saudi alliance think they can have their cake and eat it – that they can get Assad overthrown and replaced by an anti-Iranian pro-Saudi Sunni government while also getting the rebels it backs to defeat Al Nusrah and "Al Qa'ida in Iraq" in Syria at the same time. Fighting among rebel groups may be one of the reasons the war seems to have turned in Assad's favour (not that i think a military victory for either side or a long civil war would be good things)

  21. I also think from reading the posts it links to that its more likely that Obama is vetoing openly arming the rebels while approving covertly arming them (e.g see former CIA Officer Phillip Giraldi's 'NATO vs Syria' on NATO supplying the rebels with weapons from Libya ; and many news reports of arms being supplied by the US and France and Croatia in flights from Croatia) and arming them by proxy – especially by getting the Saudis to arm and fund the rebels (reports on CIA co-ordination of thousands of tonnes of arms flown in by Sunni Arab governments in the New York Times etc). This arms the Syrian rebels against Assad and Al Nusrah while having less of a US "footprint" and more plausible deniability if the arms supplied end up in the hands of Al Nusrah or Al Qa'ida in Iraq.

  22. It's kinda like "yoga" then? (Which isn't about Lululemon-garbed idiots)