Eric Zuesse, as originally published at The Saker. (This article deals with America’s boots-on-the-ground proxy-fighters against Syria. On 27 July 2018, this was supplemented by an article about America’s governmental allies against Syria: “America’s Allies Against Russia & Iran: Main U.S. allies are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Israel, & Nazis.”)
As will be documented here, America’s troops in Syria are not there in order to fight, but to assist Kurdish separatists in the northeast, and to assist the Al Qaeda led-and-trained jihadist forces elsewhere in Syria (such as in the East Ghouta suburb of Damascus, and in parts of Aleppo, and especially in Idlib) to overthrow and replace Syria’s popular and democratically elected, strongly secular and anti-sectarian President, Bashar al-Assad. Occasionally, the U.S. Government also has even helped ISIS to take over and control parts of Syria, such as the city Deir Zor (or Deir Ezzor), which is Syria’s oil-producing capital. For example, on 17 September 2016, the U.S. bombed Syria’s army in Deir Zor so that the surrounding ISIS forces could (and did) rush in and take control there. Subsequently, the U.S. bombed the Iraqi ISIS controlled city Mosul, and the U.S and Turkey provided a protected pathway for any surviving ISIS jihadists to travel from there to Deir Zor, so as to strengthen ISIS’s grip on that Syrian city. Also, at least one non-jihadist anti-Assad fighter quit working with U.S. forces once discovering that the U.S. was secretly funneling weapons from their camps to ISIS camps. So: the U.S. Government has been supporting jihadists throughout Syria except when the sheer PR need has been to defeat ISIS, such as in Raqqa. But, basically, the U.S. Government has been supporting anyone in Syria who wants to overthrow Syria’s Government.
According to a Western-sponsored poll of Syrians in 2015, all across the country, 82% blamed the war in Syria mainly on the U.S. Government. In that same poll, only 22% of Syrians approved of Al Qaeda in Syria; but, starting in 2012, Al Qaeda in Syria provided the leadership for almost all of the dozens of jihadist groups that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the other fundamentalist-Islamic allies of the U.S. Government, were recruiting and helping to transport into Syria, so as to establish Sharia law in Syria (in other words: to overthrow Assad). Without the support of Al Qaeda in Syria, the entire American effort to overthrow Assad would quickly have collapsed. This is one of the reasons why Al Qaeda in Syria adopted a number of different names, mainly “Al Nusrah,” so that the U.S. CIA and other agencies could work with them: it’s because the name “Al Qaeda” was poison to American and European audiences — and not only to the vast majority of Syrians. More recently, Al Qaeda in Syria has been calling itself “HTS” or Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, but it’s the same thing and it remains America’s leading agency training and leading the boots-on-the-ground fighters that the U.S. depends upon to overthrow Syria’s Government and replace it with one that would be controlled by the fundamentalist-Sunni royal family of Saudi Arabia.
The examples that will be presented here, of contemporaneous news-reports from 2012, which covered America’s backing of Al Qaeda, and America’s heavy dependence upon Al Qaeda, were reported by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which itself is funded by the U.S. and Israeli Governments and supports the overthrow of Assad, so that no one can reasonably consider their reports to be slanted in favor of Syria’s Government. If you look at this site today, you will see (as it always has been) a site which is extremely supportive of the U.S. Government’s position (invading and militarily occupying lands that are targets of the United States, and especially Moslem-majority countries). It also is very supportive of NATO and continuation of the Cold War, so it’s thoroughly pro-military, hardly a site that opposes U.S. imperialism — it is, in fact, American imperialist, or what is commonly called “neo-conservative.” It demonstrates the fact that, though neo-conservatism (or “neoconservatism”) is anti-Muslim, it is pro-jihadist, or, at least, in favor of the U.S. Government using jihadists as boots-on-the-ground fighters to bring down governments that the U.S. Government wants to replace, wherever a moderately progressive (and thus strongly anti-jihadist) government is in control of a Moslem-majority country or region.
That site reported (boldfaces have been added by me to highlight):
The al Qaeda-linked Al Nusrah Front released a statement noting that it conducted a joint operation with the supposedly secular Free Syrian Army. From the Al Nusrah statement, which was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group:
In obedience to the command of Allah, and in support of His religion and to protect the oppressed in the Levant [Syria], the soldiers of the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, in cooperation with the Battalion of the Mujahideen of the Companions [Al Sahaba Battalion], carried out an attack on the police station of Jadida Artouz in the countryside of Damascus, killing all the elements, taking their weapons, and completely destroying the building. That was on the morning of Thursday, 19-7-2012.
The Al Sahaba Battalion is a well-known Free Syrian Army formation which operates in the Syrian capital of Damascus.
The Al Nusrah Front clearly has been poaching from al Qaeda in Iraq, given the sophistication and intensity of its attacks [see Threat Matrix report, Al Qaeda fighters moving from Iraq to Syria]. Now, the lines between the Free Syrian Army and the plethora of jihadist groups have begun to fade, according to The Guardian, which reported at the end of July that al Qaeda has integrated its operations with the Free Syrian Army:
As they stood outside the commandeered government building in the town of Mohassen, it was hard to distinguish Abu Khuder’s men from any other brigade in the Syrian civil war, in their combat fatigues, T-shirts and beards.
But these were not average members of the Free Syrian Army. Abu Khuder and his men fight for al-Qaida. They call themselves the ghuraba’a, or “strangers”, after a famous jihadi poem celebrating Osama bin Laden’s time with his followers in the Afghan mountains, and they are one of a number of jihadi organisations establishing a foothold in the east of the country now that the conflict in Syria has stretched well into its second bloody year.
They try to hide their presence. “Some people are worried about carrying the [black] flags,” said Abu Khuder. “They fear America will come and fight us. So we fight in secret. Why give Bashar and the west a pretext?” But their existence is common knowledge in Mohassen. Even passers-by joke with the men about car bombs and IEDs.
According to Abu Khuder, his men are working closely with the military council that commands the Free Syrian Army brigades in the region. “We meet almost every day,” he said. “We have clear instructions from our [al-Qaida] leadership that if the FSA need our help we should give it. We help them with IEDs and car bombs. Our main talent is in the bombing operations.” Abu Khuder’s men had a lot of experience in bomb-making from Iraq and elsewhere, he added.
Abu Khuder then explains how al Qaeda is far better organized and disciplined, possesses the expertise to effectively strike at the Syrian military, and has an appealing ideology. Read the whole thing.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.
The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group that is fighting Bashir al Assad’s regime in Syria, and allied jihadist groups took control of the last major Syrian Army base in western Aleppo after a two-month-long siege. The base is believed to be involved in Syria’s chemical weapons program.
The Sheikh Suleiman base, or Base 111, fell to the Al Nusrah Front and “several Islamist rebel battalions linked to it,” a representative of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP. Foreign fighters are also said to have played a key role in the assault that led to the fall of the Sheikh Suleiman base, while nearby units of the Free Syrian Army stood by and watched.
“Many of the fighters were from other Arab countries and Central Asia,” AFP said, based on observations from one of its reporters who covered the area. An estimated 300 to 400 Syrian soldiers defended the base before it fell to the jihadist alliance. Al Qaeda’s black flag of jihad was raised over one of the buildings on the base as the fighting took place.
The two other Islamist groups who fought alongside Al Nusrah were identified as the Mujahedeen Shura Council and the Muhajireen group, according to The Associated Press. The term muhajireen means emigrants, a strong indication that many of its fighters are from outside of Syria.
Some of the fighters who took the base are non-Syrian. One of the leaders involved in the battle to take the base identified himself to AFP as Abu Talha and said he was from Uzbekistan. Other foreign fighters said, “We are all mujahedeens and muhajireens.”
Captured base said to be part of Syria’s chemical weapons program
The Sheikh Suleiman base is rumored to be involved in the Assad regime’s chemical weapons program. The base “contained a clandestine scientific research whose purpose was unknown even to the rank and file,” AFP reported in late November, based on a claim from a soldier who defected.
US officials have expressed concern that the Syrian government has been preparing to use chemical weapons against the rebels after suffering a string of defeats throughout the country. The US is also training Syrian rebels in Jordan to secure chemical weapons sites in the event that the Assad regime falls, CNN reported.
The Syrian government has warned that rebels may also use chemical weapons after the Al Nusrah Front took control control of a chlorine factory in Aleppo last week.
Islamists hold sway over new rebel military command
The fall of the Sheikh Suleiman base to jihadist forces took place just days after the supposedly secular rebels established a joint military command that is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and individuals linked to the various Salafist-jihadist groups.
“Its composition, estimated to be two-thirds from the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, reflects the growing strength of Islamist fighters on the ground and resembles that of the civilian opposition leadership coalition created under Western and Arab auspices in Qatar last month, France 24 reported.
Senior military officers who defected from the Assad regime as well as military commanders opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood and [to] Salafists were excluded from the joint command.
The Al Nusrah Front’s position on the newly established joint military command is unclear. In mid-November, the Al Nusrah Front and 13 other jihadist groups based in Aleppo rejected the Western-backed National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, and instead called for the establishment of an Islamic state.
“We declare our legitimate rejection of what came to be called the ‘national alliance.’ An agreement has been reached to establish a just Islamic State and to reject any foreign project, alliances or councils that are forced on us domestically from any entity, whatever it is,” according to a statement that was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. …
The US government added the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant and two of its senior leaders to the list of global terrorists and entities today. In the designation of the Al Nusrah Front, the Department of State called the group “a new alias” for al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and said Al Nusrah is under the direct control of the AQI emir.
“The Department of State has amended the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 designations of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to include the following new aliases: Al Nusrah Front, Jabhat al-Nusrah, Jabhet al-Nusra, The Victory Front, and Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant,” today’s press release stated.
State said that al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir, Abu Du’a, or Abu Bakr al Baghdadi al Husseini al Qurshi, “is in control of both AQI and Al Nusrah.”
Al Nusrah has claimed hundreds of attacks, to include suicide bombings, military assaults, IED attacks, and assassinations. The terror group has now claimed credit for 42 of the 51 suicide attacks that have taken place in Syria in the past 12 months, according to a tally by The Long War Journal [see Threat Matrix report, Al Nusrah Front launches complex suicide attack in Syria, for a list of the attacks].
“Through these attacks, Al Nusrah has sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition while it is, in fact, an attempt by AQI to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes,” State continued.
Iraqi, Syrian Al Nusrah leaders added to list of global terrorists
In addition to State’s designation of the Al Nusrah Front, the Department of Treasury added two senior Al Nusrah Front leaders, Maysar Ali Musa Abdallah al Juburi and Anas Hasan Khattab, to the list of global terrorists today.
Al Juburi is an Iraqi citizen who has been involved in attacking US forces in Iraq since 2004 as part of al Qaeda in Iraq. He “moved from Mosul, Iraq to Syria in late 2011 to exploit Syria’s more permissive security environment with the objectives of transferring al Qaeda’s ideology to Syria and forming likeminded terrorist groups,” Treasury stated. He became Al Nusrah’s “religious and military commander” in eastern Syria and ran a training camp.
Anas Hasan Khattab, another al Qaeda in Iraq operative, serves as a key facilitator between AQI and the Al Nusrah Front. In mid-2012, he was “involved with the formation of Al Nusrah Front for AQI,” Treasury stated. Additionally, he “communicated periodically with AQI leadership to receive financial and material assistance and helped facilitate funding and weapons for Al Nusrah Front,” and “works closely with al Qaeda-linked facilitators to provide logistical support to Al Nusrah Front.”
The Treasury has not added Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Julani, the emir of the Al Nusrah Front, to the list of global terrorists. His nom de guerre, al Julani, indicates that he is a Syrian from the contested Golan area of southern Syria. The Al Nusrah Front has not disclosed al Julani’s real name. The Al Nusrah Front appears to be mimicking al Qaeda in Iraq, which has obscured the real identity of the emirs of its political front, the Islamic State of Iraq, since its formation in late 2007.
Links between Al Nusrah and al Qaeda have been clear
The links between the Al Nusrah Front and al Qaeda in Iraq have been clear for some time. Al Nusrah’s tactics, operations, and propaganda are nearly identical to those of al Qaeda in Iraq. The Syrian terror group conducts complex suicide assaults, ambushes, IED attacks, and assassinations. And just as al Qaeda in Iraq rails against the Shia, Al Nusrah says its attacks are directed against the Nusayri, or Alawite, enemy. Alawites are a sect of Shia Islam, and President Assad’s regime is supported by Iran [see Threat Matrix report, Al Nusrah Front released photos of execution of Syrian soldiers, from October 2012].
The Al Nusrah Front announced it formation in a YouTube video statement that was released on Jan. 23. In the statement, the group claimed an attack on security headquarters in Idlib and vowed to attack President Bashir al Assad’s regime.
In mid-November, the Al Nusrah Front and 13 other jihadist groups based in Aleppo rejected the Western-backed National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, and instead called for the establishment of an Islamic state, just as al Qaeda in Iraq did when it formed the Islamic State of Iraq in 2007.
“We declare our legitimate rejection of what came to be called the ‘national alliance.’ An agreement has been reached to establish a just Islamic State and to reject any foreign project, alliances or councils that are forced on us domestically from any entity, whatever it is,” Al Nusrah announced in a statement that was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Al Qaeda’s network has strong roots in Syria, and was well poised to capitalize on the unrest in Syria. For years, the terror group has used Syria to support its operations inside Iraq. In late 2008, the US took the unusual step of launching a special operations raid against al Qaeda’s facilitation network in the town of Sukkariya near Albu Kamal in eastern Syria, just five miles from the Iraqi border. US troops killed Abu Ghadiya, al Qaeda’s senior facilitator, and his senior staff during the October 2008 raid. By 2009, eastern Syria was known to have evolved into a new terrorist haven for al Qaeda in Iraq [see LWJ report, Eastern Syria becoming a new al Qaeda haven].
Al Nusrah becomes a dominant force in the Syrian insurgency
The Al Nusrah Front has by far taken the lead among the jihadist groups in executing suicide and other complex attacks against the Syrian military. The terror group is known to conduct joint operations with other Syrian jihadist organizations.
Just yesterday, the Al Nusrah Front, in conjunction with the Mujahedeen Shura Council and the Muhajireen group, seized control of the Sheikh Suleiman base outside of Aleppo after a two-month-long siege. The base is suspected of playing a role in Syria’s chemical weapons program. In mid-November, Al Nusrah reported that it attacked a base in Idlib along with the Ahrar al Sham Brigades, and even shot down a Syrian MiG fighter aircraft.
The Al Nusrah Front is also known to conduct joint operations with the Free Syrian Army, which is often upheld as the secular resistance to Assad’s regime. On Oct. 11, Al Nusrah, the Free Syrian Army, and Chechen fighters overran a Syrian air defense and Scud missile base in Aleppo [see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front commanded Free Syrian Army unit, ‘Chechen emigrants,’ in assault on Syrian air defense base]. In August, Al Nusrah said it attacked a police station outside of Damascus along with the Al Sahaba Battalion, a unit of the Free Syrian Army that operates in the capital [see Threat Matrix report, Al Nusrah Front conducts joint operation with Free Syrian Army].
Al Nusrah has become more appealing to Syrian rebels as the group’s fighters are better organized and have expertise from waging jihad in Iraq and elsewhere, and have integrated their operations with the Free Syrian Army.
Foreign jihadists have begun to pour into Syria to wage jihad against Assad’s regime. Fighters from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories are known to have been killed in Syria. Recently, two of Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s cousins were detained by Jordanian security forces after fighting in Syria.
Jihadists from the UK may be flocking to the Syrian battlefields as well. In mid-October, The Times reported that authorities had identified a Bangladeshi resident of London as the leader of a group of British jihadists seeking to fight in Syria. Scotland Yard seized computers and mobile phones from members of the group, which consists mainly of Londoners and includes seasoned Chechen fighters.
The head of the Syrian National Coalition, which was recognized yesterday by the United States as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, is urging the US to drop its designation of the Al Nusrah Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. From AFP:
“The decision to blacklist one of the groups fighting the regime as a terrorist organization must be re-examined,” the bloc’s leader, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, said at a meeting in Morocco of the Friends of Syria group that includes the United States.
“We can have ideological and political differences with certain parties, but the revolutionaries all share the same goal: to overthrow the criminal regime” of President Bashar al-Assad.
To summarize: The head of the US-backed Syrian National Coalition said he is quite comfortable fighting alongside al Qaeda in Iraq’s front group in Syria (see yesterday’s designation of the Al Nusrah Front, which the US called an “alias” for al Qaeda in Iraq). Al Khatib sees merely “ideological and political differences” between the Syrian National Coalition and Al Nusrah/al Qaeda.
Now I direct you to this press briefing that was held yesterday by “three senior Administration officials” (unnamed of course) after the Al Nusrah Front was designated. I suggest you read the entire briefing to understand the Obama administration’s view on the designation and its hopes that the designation will cause the Syrian National Coalition to distance itself from Al Nusrah.
This is what “senior Administration official number three” has to say:
And it is important for the Syrians in the political opposition and in the armed opposition to understand what Nusrah is and what it represents. The time of a political transition is approaching. It’s approaching quickly as events on the ground move. And it is important to understand that Nusrah is an extremist group that cannot possibly be a part of the political transition to a tolerant and free Syria.
Unfortunately, the head of the Syrian National Coalition seems to completely disregard what Al Nusrah represents, and to be just fine with including the al Qaeda branch under the coalition’s tent. And lest we think he is alone, 29 Syrian opposition groups have signed a petition that not only condemns the US’s designation, but says “we are all Al Nusrah,” and urges their supporters to raise Al Nusrah’s flag (which of course is al Qaeda’s flag).
So, that site, which is passionately anti-Assad, acknowledged, back in 2012, that the U.S. needed the support from Al Qaeda, in order to have any realistic chance of carrying out the goal — for both the U.S. and Israeli Governments — of overthrowing Assad.
Also, a report from yet another foundation that’s backed by both the U.S. and Israeli Governments, the Institute for the Study of War, likewise observed and documented, at that same time (which was before America’s virtual ban against such reporting — because after 2012, the U.S. Government built its case for occupying portions of Syria, on its argument that Assad was the source of the jihadist threat in that country), that the U.S. effort in Syria relied heavily upon Al Qaeda’s assistance:
Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria: An Islamic Emirate for al-Qaeda, December 2014, by Jennifer Cafarella
JN [Jabhat al-Nusra] originated as a Syrian offshoot of the former al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) organization. It has evolved into a separate and robust al-Qaeda affiliate, recognized by AQ leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the first half of 2013.1 The group’s membership includes both Syrian and foreign fighters, and draws upon the resources of the al-Qaeda core.2 JN never downplayed its Salafi [fundamentalist Sunni — Saudi-allied]—Jihadist orientation prior to its formal incorporation into the al-Qaeda movement. However, in the early years of the revolution it refrained from disclosing its AQ affiliation and its actual goals in Syria. This allowed JN to avoid alienating the local Syrian population, which was unlikely to tolerate its long-term objectives and hardline religious beliefs in the early months of the war. JN instead propagated an image of a nationalist Syrian opposition force, recruiting heavily to establish a base of Syrian fighters and securing the support of other rebel groups. The success of this strategy became apparent in December 2012, when the U.S. designation of JN as a terrorist organization provoked protests in support of JN from within Syria’s moderate opposition.3 Twenty-nine Syrian opposition groups signed a petition condemning the U.S. designation of JN as a terrorist group. They went so far as to announce “we are all al-Nusra” and urged rebel supporters to raise the JN flag.4
So, there’s no real disagreement as to whether the U.S. Government backs Al Qaeda in Syria, and sometimes backs ISIS in Syria and, even under the loudly anti- “radical Islamic terrorism” President Donald Trump, strengthens ISIS there so as to assist the downfall of Assad, the elected national leader. It’s proven by actions, not by mere words — which can’t be trusted regarding this war (if any war). Syria’s Government passionately objects at the U.N., to America’s insistence upon replacing Assad’s Government (which the U.S. and its allies call instead a ‘regime’), and America’s continued attempts at replacing this by a Sharia-law dictatorship, which very few Syrians actually want. But both the facts of the case, and the objections by the Syrian Government, are simply ignored.
By contrast, America’s assistance to Kurdish separatists in the northeast of the country is publicly acknowledged.
America’s position in that war is in blatant violation of international law, because the U.S. was never invited in by the Syrian Government, the U.S. has instead been only an invading force there (unlike Russia and Iran, both of which were invited into the country so as to get rid of the U.S.-Saudi-Qatari-UAE-Kuwaiti-Turkish and Al Qaeda and other jihadist, invaders). This shows that international laws mean nothing when the violator is the U.S. and its allies. Whereas ‘The West’ freely violates international laws, other countries do so only at their own peril. Consequently, the U.S. and its allies are destroying the U.N.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.