The United States and its allies are engaged in a tense and confusing intervention within Syria, where arms and aid are being sent to rebels whose loyalties are under question. As the Washington Post reported on February 23, “A surge of rebel advances in Syria is being fueled at least in part by an influx of heavy weaponry in a renewed effort by outside powers to arm moderates in the Free Syrian Army, according to Arab and rebel officials.” The Free Syrian Army works alongside Al Nusrah, a terrorist organization associated with Al Qaeda.
“The new armaments, including anti-tank weapons and recoilless rifles, have been sent across the Jordanian border into the province of Daraa in recent weeks to counter the growing influence of Islamist extremist groups in the north of Syria by boosting more moderate groups fighting in the south, the officials say,” report Liz Sly and Karen DeYoung for the Post.
According to Sly and DeYoung, “Louay al-Mokdad, the political and media coordinator for the Free Syrian Army, confirmed that the rebels have procured new weapons donated from outside Syria, rather than bought on the black market or seized during the capture of government facilities, the source of the vast majority of the arms that are in the hands of the rebels. But he declined to say who was behind the effort.”
“Another coordinator for the Free Syrian Army, whose units have received small quantities of donated weaponry in the past two weeks, said that as much as empowering moderates, the goal of the supplies also is to shift the focus of the war away from the north toward the south and the capital, Assad’s stronghold,” write Sly and DeYoung. The Washington Post is engaged in a selective reading of the situation, casting the FSA as moderate when it works alongside an al Qaeda affiliate.
As Bill Roggio notes, “But as documented by The Long War Journal numerous times, the ostensibly secular Free Syrian Army often fights alongside or under the command of the Al Nusrah Front. The two groups have overrun Syrian military bases and they have even conducted a suicide attack in concert.” Elizabeth O’Bagy, speaking at an American Enterprise Institute event, concurs. She said at the event that “[Al Nusrah has] taken a command role within multiple opposition groups and are really establishing their presence over that of the Free Syrian Army and the more moderate forces within the Syrian opposition.” In other words, aiding these rebel groups will inevitably lead to aiding Al Nusrah and Islamic militants in Syria.
More recently, John Kerry and the State Department, “announced that [the State Department] would provide $60 million dollars in direct aid to the Syrian Opposition Coalition, an alliance of Syrian groups that has come out in support of the Al Nusrah Front after the US designated it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and al Qaeda in Iraq’s affiliate in Syria in December 2012,” writes Roggio. In other words, the U.S. is sending humanitarian aid to the terrorists. You can view the Washington Post article on this here.
Elizabeth O’Bagy, with the Institute for the Study of War, explained at a recent AEI event that humanitarian aid and social services are one of the ways that Al Nusrah has won hearts and minds. “And they have combined this with the distribution of humanitarian services and social services to create a platform that does have popular resonance with the Syrian population,” she said. “And this is a very dangerous trend in terms of long-term stability inside of Syria because you’ve managed to take an ideology that is seen as very radical and not conducive to [the] Syrian nationalist agenda, but given it popular resonance, given it popular support and allowed these type of ideas and trends to flourish among a population in where, in which would normally be a more hostile environment for such an ideology.”
Ostensibly, the U.S. is engaged in sending just humanitarian aid to Syria in fear that weapons could end up in the wrong hands. But humanitarian aid may produce the same effect by helping Al Nusrah’s “branding” in the region.